Opening Bell: 5.26.16

Dong Energy targets $16 billion IPO valuation; Top UK model agencies accused of price fixing; Cheap bros have found a new way to get out of paying for dates; and more.
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Dong Energy Targets IPO Valuation as High as $16 Billion (Bloomberg)
Dong Energy A/S may be valued as high as 106.5 billion kroner ($16 billion) in an initial public offering, marking what looks set to become Denmark’s biggest public share sale in decades. Dong plans to sell between 15.1 percent and 17.4 percent of its existing shares in an IPO with trading set to take place in the second week of June, the utility said in a statement to the stock exchange on Thursday.

Top model agencies accused of price fixing (FT)
It is better known for investigating cartels and mergers among airlines, banks and energy companies. But the UK’s competition watchdog is now taking on the agencies behind some of the world’s most famous catwalk models. Five of London’s top model agencies — FM Models, Models One, Premier, Storm and Viva — have been named in an inquiry into price collusion by the Competition and Markets Authority. The watchdog said on Wednesday that in a two-year period to March 2015, the agencies “agreed to exchange confidential, competitively sensitive information, including future pricing information, and in some instances agreed a common approach to pricing”.

Disney chief blasts Sanders: How many jobs have you created? (CNBC)
Walt Disney chief executive Bob Iger has shot back at Bernie Sanders after the presidential candidate attacked the theme park and movie company on Tuesday over worker pay and conditions, The Wrap reports. In a private Facebook post seen by The Wrap, Iger defended his company and slammed the Vermont senator for not contributing to the U.S. economy. "To Bernie Sanders," the post said. "We created 11,000 new jobs at Disneyland in the past decade, and our company has created 18,000 in the U.S. in the last five years. How many jobs have you created? What have you contributed to the US economy?"

Mt. Gox Creditors Seek Trillions Where There Are Only Millions (NYT)
$2,411,412,137,427 is in the same ballpark as the annual economic output of France. It is also exactly the amount that people around the world claim they lost when Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based virtual currency exchange, collapsed into bankruptcy in 2014, after huge, unexplained losses of the volatile digital currency Bitcoin. As with most of the people who lost money with Bernard L. Madoff, the investment manager who was convicted of running a Ponzi scheme, most of those who put their Bitcoin in Mt. Gox will be disappointed: The Japanese trustee overseeing the case said on Wednesday that only $91 million in assets has been tracked down to distribute to claimants — a small portion of the more than $500 million in assets that Mt. Gox claimed it had in the weeks before it went bankrupt in February 2014, and a tiny portion of the amount that claimants have requested.

Cheap bros have found a new way to get out of paying for dates (NYP)
Shaquan Bailey, a 22-year-old caretaker, was thrilled when a guy she met online invited her out for their third date at a restaurant near her Bed-Stuy apartment. She found the man charming over pizza and wine and, like a gentleman, he picked up the check and then walked Bailey back to her apartment. She thought the date had gone well — until the guy sent her a $30 payment request on Venmo to cover half the dinner bill, which she grudgingly paid. “I cut him off so quickly and stopped texting him back,” Bailey told The Post. “I do not have time for scrubs.” The app, launched in 2012, lets users link debit and credit cards online to send and request money. In January, users digitally transferred more than $1 billion on the app. “I had a guy who asked me to Venmo him to pay for a $3 well drink,” fumed Tammy, a 21-year-old beauty blogger who asked that her last name be withheld for professional reasons. “And I was like, ‘Bye.’ Where are all the real men?”

Caesars owners talked IPO while dissing shares (NYP)
Executives at Apollo Global Management, one of Caesars’ owners, dissed the casino giant’s biggest operating business as worthless in private while publicly talking up a plan to sell shares in the unit, a bankruptcy examiner’s report reveals.

Billionaire admits to funding Hogan in bid to cripple Gawker (NYP, earlier)
Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel admitted Wednesday he had shelled out approximately $10 million to finance Hulk Hogan’s winning invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against Gawker, claiming the act was “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done.” The PayPal co-founder, himself a frequent target of the gossip Web site, said in an interview with The New York Times that he had a legal team seek out lawsuits against Gawker with the intention of ­financially crippling it. “It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” Thiel told the Times in his first ­interview since Forbes reported he had funded the suit.

Google’s Schmidt Sees Genetics Advances, No Alphabet Breakup (Bloomberg)
Schmidt said he’s looking forward to advances in genetics, thanks to technology that will improve gene sequencing, and more personalized and efficient health care as the medical world becomes increasingly digitized. Speaking at Bloomberg’s Breakaway conference Wednesday in New York, Schmidt also said Alphabet, the holding company that owns Google and other businesses including Nest and Fiber, will probably never break up and its job is to seek out transformative solutions.

Coming to a Bar Near You: The Domesticated Bouncer (WSJ)
Venturing where Emily Post left off, Mr. Smith runs an etiquette school for bouncers, training the men and women who serve on the front lines of bars and clubs. Instead of intimidating rowdy patrons and throwing out troublemakers, bouncers today need to do their jobs with a bit more finesse, mostly to prevent bar owners from getting sued...“Folks, I know you’re big and bad,” Mr. Smith said to the group, which included four women. “Strive to never go hands on.” Instead, lure the troublemaker outside on a false pretext. “Just say, ‘I just need to check your ID and the light is better out there’,” Mr. Smith said. Other tips: Before tossing someone off the premises, remove nearby bottles and glassware that might become weapons or projectiles. Stools can be dangerous, as can stiletto heels. When a patron is about to become violent, he said, “don’t be afraid to wrap someone up.” To demonstrate a proper restraining move, two bouncers put an arm lock on bartender Ben Lawley, a student who played the role of an angry drunk. To make the scene seem more authentic, Mr. Lawley shouted obscenities and sent a chair flying across the hotel conference room as he struggled to stay on his feet.

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Opening Bell: 02.12.13

Obama Address to Focus on Economy, Social Issues (WSJ) President Obama's chief spokesman, Jay Carney, said Monday the core emphasis in the president's big speeches remains the same: "The need to make the economy work for the middle class, because the middle class is the engine that drives this country forward and which will, if it's given the right tools and the right opportunities, will drive us forward in the 21st century." Republicans welcome the president's expected focus on the economy, but also say he hasn't done enough. "The White House says they're talking about jobs and the economy. I welcome that engagement," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said in an interview Sunday. "It seems as if the president is constantly trying to pivot back to jobs and the economy. The reason you see that happening is he's never pursued it." Mr. Obama will also address a series of automatic spending cuts set to kick in March 1—the so-called sequester—which could threaten economic growth, national—security preparation and the jobs of thousands of federal employees. Mr. Obama has called on Congress to pass a temporary measure of spending reductions and new taxes to replace the across-the-board cuts. Barclays to Cut 3,700 Jobs After Full-Year Loss (Bloomberg) Barclays Plc will cut 3,700 jobs to reduce annual costs by 1.7 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) as Chief Executive Officer Antony Jenkins revamps the lender following its first full-year loss in two decades. About 1,800 positions will go this year at the firm’s investment bank and 1,900 in its loss-making European consumer and business banking unit, Jenkins said in a statement today. The lender posted a net loss of 1.04 billion pounds for 2012, wider than the 307 million-pound estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, as it set aside an additional 1 billion pounds in the fourth quarter for compensating clients wrongly sold interest-rate swaps and loan-repayment insurance. BNY Mellon loses U.S. tax case, to take $850 million profit hit (Reuters) BNY Mellon Corp said on Monday it will take an $850 million charge against first-quarter profit after losing a high-stakes tax case to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, a move that will also erode some of its capital. The BNY Mellon case was the first to go to trial since the IRS accused several U.S. banks of generating artificial foreign tax credits through loans with London-based Barclays. The IRS challenged a $900 million tax benefit claimed by BNY Mellon that stemmed from a $1.5 billion loan from Barclays. The funding was so cheap that at one point Barclays actually paid BNY Mellon to take Barclays' money, according to court papers. Nasdaq Steps Up Pursuit Of A Partner (WSJ) Nasdaq, long on the hunt for a partner, has ramped up its conversations about strategic options ranging from joint ventures to a sale, according to people familiar with the talks, as rival NYSE Euronext moves ahead with a merger that will form an even-bigger competitor. Twinkie Brand Heads For Sale (WSJ) Judge Robert Drain of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, N.Y., cleared Hostess on Monday to proceed with several of the sale processes it has unveiled during the past several weeks. Private-equity firms Apollo Global Management LLC and Metropoulos & Co. are now officially set to kick off the contest for most of the Hostess cakes business, with a $410 million offer for brands such as Twinkie, Dolly Madison, Ho Hos and Ding Dongs. That so-called "stalking horse," or lead, bid also covers five bakeries and certain equipment. McKee Foods Corp., the maker of Little Debbie snack cakes, is the stalking-horse bidder for Hostess's Drake's brand. The $27.5 million offer from McKee, based in Collegedale, Tenn., doesn't include the Drake's plant in New Jersey. Tesla CEO Clashes With New York Times Over Model S Review (Bloomberg) Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc. said a range test of the Model S electric sedan by the New York Times was “fake” as the reporter didn’t disclose all the details of his drive. “NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake,” Musk said in a Twitter post yesterday. “Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.” The Times on Feb. 8 published a story by John M. Broder on its website detailing how the Model S he drove failed to meet the electric sedan’s 300-mile (483-kilometer) range “under ideal conditions” while driving in temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-12 Celsius). The Times also published a blog post by Broder about the test-drive on the same day, detailing his plan to use Tesla’s new “supercharger” stations. Broder followed instructions he was given in “multiple conversations with Tesla personnel,” Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said in an e-mail message. The story was “completely factual, describing the trip in detail exactly as it occurred,” Murphy said. “Any suggestion that the account was ‘fake’ is, of course, flatly untrue.” Dispute over mashed potatoes turns dangerous (TBN) A disagreement over mashed potatoes turned dangerous over the weekend when a victim said tempers escalated and a woman came at her with box cutters. Shaquina S. Hill, 23, of Fourth Street was charged with second-degree menacing and second-degree harassment as a result, city police said. An 18-year-old woman told police she and Hill argued about mashed potatoes just before 9 p.m. Sunday at a Fourth Street address, and things escalated from there. The younger woman told police Hill grabbed box cutters and waved them at her, then dropped the knife and started throwing things at her, including a heavy ceramic vase and coffee table. She told police Hill also punched her in the chest. U.K. Regulator to Investigate Autonomy (WSJ) The Financial Reporting Council, the regulator tasked with promoting good corporate governance and financial reporting in the U.K., announced the investigation Monday on its website. It said the probe will look at Autonomy accounts published between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2011. New York fund manager arrested on Ponzi scheme charges (Reuters) Federal prosecutors charged Jason Konior, 39, with defrauding investors by promising to match their investments in his fund, Absolute Fund LP, many times over. Prosecutors said he used $2 million of the money he collected from three hedge funds to pay his own expenses and cover redemption requests from prior investors, according to the criminal complaint dated February 7. Treasury’s Brainard Says G-20 Must Refrain From Devaluation (Bloomberg) “The G-20 needs to deliver on the commitment to move to market-determined exchange rates and refrain from competitive devaluation,” Lael Brainard, the Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs, said at a news conference in Washington today. Brainard said “global growth is weak and vulnerable to the downside,” and strengthening demand must be a top priority for G-20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting in Moscow Feb. 15-16. Ex-Fund Manager Avoids Jail Time (WSJ) The cooperation of Ali Far, co-founder of Spherix Capital LLC, led to the convictions of at least five people, including Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam, prosecutors said. Mr. Rajaratnam, who was convicted on conspiracy and securities-fraud charges, is serving an 11-year prison sentence, one of the longest terms ever imposed for insider trading. Mr. Far secretly agreed to cooperate with the government's probe shortly after he was approached by federal agents in April 2009, prosecutors said. Mr. Far, a former Galleon employee, recorded about 244 calls, including calls with Mr. Rajaratnam, prosecutors said. He also was prepared to testify at Mr. Rajaratnam's trial as a government witness in 2011 but was never called, they said. "I am truly sorry for my mistakes and I am ashamed," Mr. Far said at a hearing in Manhattan federal court Monday. U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson sentenced Mr. Far to one year's probation. He also imposed a $100,000 fine. The Perils of Being A Dog Show Judge (WSJ) Cindy Vogels had a litter of options for Best in Show at last year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. As the final judge, she could have chosen a German Shepherd, a Doberman pinscher or even a Dalmatian. Instead she picked a Pekingese named Malachy—and everyone else judged her. One person, Vogels said, called the Pekingese "that awful dog." Vogels recalled another saying: "Why would you give Best in Show to the dog that couldn't walk?" "The American public was horrified," Vogels said. "The public has no appreciation for a Pekingese." It is the ultimate honor for a show judge to name the Best in Show winner at Westminster, the year's glitziest dog show, which concludes Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. But it also can bring out the worst in people. The math behind this logic is basic: There are 187 breeds, only seven will win their groups and just one will win the opinion of Michael Dougherty, the Best in Show judge on Tuesday. "You go in there alone," said Elliott Weiss, the 2010 Best in Show judge, "and you come out alone."

Opening Bell: 02.19.13

SAC’s Cohen May Face SEC Suit as Deposition Hurts Case (Bloomberg) U.S. investigators have subpoenaed a 2011 deposition of SAC Capital Advisors LP founder Steven Cohen, whose sworn statements on insider-trading compliance may hurt him as he tries to persuade regulators not to file a lawsuit with the potential to shut his $14 billion firm. The SEC told the hedge fund Nov. 20 that it planned to sue SAC for securities fraud and so-called control-person liability for failing to supervise employees. The same day, the agency accused an ex-SAC portfolio manager and his hedge-fund unit of insider trading for persuading Cohen, 56, to make $700 million in illegal trades. Prosecutors also indicted the manager. Cohen’s testimony, reviewed by Bloomberg News, establishes his personal control over the unit, CR Intrinsic, and records his unfamiliarity with his firm’s compliance and ethics policies on insider trading. “I’ve read the compliance manual, but I don’t remember exactly what it says,” Cohen said. Morgan Stanley Strives to Coordinate 2 Departments Often at Odds (Dealbook) Traditionally, traders and investment bankers think of themselves as the elite of Wall Street and look down on the retail business, seeing it as pedestrian...Yet since Morgan Stanley moved to acquire control of the Smith Barney brokerage business from Citigroup in 2009, the balance of power has shifted to wealth management, which now accounts for almost 52 percent of the company’s earnings, up from roughly 16 percent in 2006. Paulson Leads Funds to Bermuda Tax Dodge Aiding Billionaires (Bloomberg) A decade after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service threatened to crack down on what it said were abuses by hedge-fund backed reinsurers, more high-profile money managers are setting up shop in tax havens. Paulson, SAC Capital Advisors LP’s Steven A. Cohen and Third Point LLC’s Daniel Loeb have started Bermuda reinsurance companies since 2011, following a similar Cayman Islands venture by Greenlight Capital Inc.’s David Einhorn. Options Activity Questioned Again (WSJ) Over the past year, unusually large positions were established shortly in advance of news that moved shares of Nexen Inc., Youku Inc., Human Genome Sciences Inc., Constellation Brands Inc. and, most recently, CBS Corp. All turned profitable after the news. A spokeswoman for the SEC, which regulates stock and options trading, said the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of inquiries into trading tied to those companies. No charges have been filed in the Heinz case, which was linked to a Swiss trading account, but the move to freeze the assets is one of the fastest enforcement actions ever filed by the agency, according to officials. The SEC said Friday that the timing and size of the trades were highly suspicious given the account had no history of trading in Heinz securities in the last six months. Prosecutors, Shifting Strategy, Build New Wall Street Cases (Dealbook) Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks. In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations...The new strategy first materialized in recent settlements with UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which were accused of manipulating interest rates to bolster profit. As part of a broader deal, the banks’ Japanese subsidiaries pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud. Russians Wade Into the Snow to Seek Treasure From the Sky (NYT) Ever since the meteor exploded somewhere over this impoverished Siberian town, Larisa V. Briyukova wondered what to do with the fist-size stone she found under a hole in the roof tiles of her woodshed. On Monday, a stranger knocked on her door, offering about $60, Ms. Briyukova said. After some haggling, they settled on a price of $230. A few hours later, another man pulled up, looked at the hole in the roof and offered $1,300. “Now I regret selling it,” said Ms. Briyukova, a 43-year-old homemaker. “But then, who knows? The police might have come and taken it away anyway.” On Friday, terror rained from the skies, blowing out windows and scaring people over an enormous swath of Siberia. But by Monday, for many people what fell from the sky had turned to pure gold, and it touched off a rush to retrieve the fragments, many buried in deep February snows. Many of those out prospecting looked a lot like Sasha Zarezina, 8, who happily plunged into a snowbank here in this village of a thousand, laughing, kicking and throwing up plumes of powdery snow. Then she stopped, bent over and started to dig. “I found one!” she yelled. A warm breath and a rub on her pants later, a small black pebble, oval like a river rock, charred and smooth, was freed of ice. While trade in material from meteorites is largely illegal, there is a flourishing global market, with fragments widely available for sale on the Internet, usually at modest prices. At least one from the recent meteor was available on eBay on Monday for $32, and there is a Web site called Star-bits.com devoted to the trade — much to the displeasure of scientists and the countries where the objects were found. UK's Lloyds fined $6.7 million for mis-sold insurance (Reuters) Britain's financial regulator on Tuesday fined Lloyds Banking Group 4.3 million pounds ($6.7 million) for failing to handle complaints relating to insurance sold on loans and mortgages properly. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said failings in the bank's systems and controls resulted in up to 140,000 customers experiencing delays in receiving compensation for being mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). Horsemeat Scandal Draws in Nestlé (FT) Switzerland-based Nestle on Monday removed pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain and suspended deliveries of all processed products containing meat from German supplier, H.J. Schypke, after tests revealed traces of horse DNA above 1 per cent. Nestle said it had informed the authorities. Is Berlusconi Getting a Poll Bounce From Tax Evaders? (CNBC) The media mogul, who has been convicted of tax fraud, has promised to introduce a tax amnesty for evaders if elected and to abolish the real estate tax. Swelling U.S. Labor Force Keeps Fed at Ease (Bloomberg) In the short run, the larger labor force will have an unfortunate side effect: It will slow the fall in unemployment. Mellman sees the jobless rate dropping to 7.5 percent by year- end from 7.9 percent now. It fell 0.7 percentage point in 2012. In the longer run, a bigger supply of labor is good news because it swells the pool of Americans available and willing to work, enhancing the economy’s potential to grow, according to Julie Hotchkiss, a policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. It also has a silver lining for investors. The gradual fall in unemployment will allow policy makers to keep monetary policy looser for longer without having to worry about igniting a wage- driven rise in inflation. Couple Getting Affectionate Drive Through Home (WO) "She told the investigating trooper that her and the boyfriend were getting a little amorous and the trooper suspects that's probably why she lost control of the vehicle," said Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Montes. Walker lost control of the vehicle and slammed into an unoccupied home. The vehicle went all the way through the house. The impact was so dramatic, the pressure blew a window in another part of the house out. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Walker was injured when debris fell inside the vehicle. She was taken to Halifax Medical Center to be checked out. Her boyfriend, Charles Phillips, was not hurt.

Opening Bell: 12.21.12

Critics Say UBS Let Off Too Easy (WSJ) Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said Wednesday after the $1.5 billion fine against UBS was announced. Prosecutors have to at least "evaluate whether or not innocent people might lose jobs" and other types of potential collateral damage. Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), a Senate Finance Committee member, said he is unsatisfied that prosecutors didn't go higher up the corporate ladder at UBS than its Japanese subsidiary..."The reluctance of U.S. prosecutors to file criminal charges over big-time bank fraud is frustrating and hard to understand," Mr. Grassley said. The $1.5 billion fine is a "spit in the ocean compared to the money lost by borrowers at every level, including taxpayers." Regulatory 'Whale' Hunt Advances (WSJ) The first regulatory ripples from the "London Whale" trading fiasco are about to hit J.P. Morgan Chase. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, led by Comptroller Thomas Curry, is preparing to take a formal action demanding that J.P. Morgan remedy the lapses in risk controls that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up losses of more than $6 billion this year, according to people familiar with the company's discussions with regulators. Khuzami To Leave SEC Enforcement Post (WSJ) Robert Khuzami, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit, plans to leave the agency as soon as next month, a person familiar with the expected move said Thursday. Boehner Drops ‘Plan B’ as Budget Effort Turns to Disarray (Bloomberg) House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million, yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party and throwing already-stalled budget talks deeper into turmoil. He will hold a news conference today at 10 a.m. Washington time to discuss the next steps in the budget dispute, a Republican leadership aide said. House members and senators won’t vote on the end-of-year budget issues until after Christmas, giving them less than a week to reach agreement to avert tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. The partisan divide hardened yesterday, making the path to a deal more uncertain. BlackRock Sees Distortions in Country Ratings Seeking S&P Change (Bloomberg) Credit rating companies are distorting capital markets by assigning the same debt ranking to countries from Italy to Thailand and Kazakhstan, according to BlackRock, the world’s biggest money manager. While 23 countries share the BBB+ to BBB- levels assessed by Standard & Poor’s, the lowest investment grades, up from 15 in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis, their debt to gross domestic product ratios range from 12 percent for Kazakhstan to 44 percent for Thailand and 126 percent for Italy, International Monetary Fund estimates show. The cost of insuring against a default by Italy, ranked BBB+, over the next five years is almost triple that for Thailand, which has the same rating. For BlackRock, which oversees $3.7 trillion in assets, the measures are so untrustworthy that the firm is setting up its own system to gauge the risk of investing in government bonds. This year, the market moved in the opposite direction suggested by changes to levels and outlooks 53 percent of the time, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “The rating agencies were very, very slow to the game,” Benjamin Brodsky, a managing director at BlackRock International Ltd., said in a Nov. 23 interview from London. “They all came after the fact. For us, this is not good enough.” If You Bought Greek Bonds in January You Earned 80% (Bloomberg) Greek government bonds returned 80 percent this year, compared with 3.7 percent for German bunds and 6.1 percent for Spanish securities, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. It’s the first year since 2009 that investors made money on Greek securities, with 2012 providing the biggest advance since Merrill began compiling the data in 1998, according to figures that don’t reflect this month’s debt buyback by the government. Texas lawmaker: ‘Ping-pongs’ deadlier than guns (The Ticket) Incoming Texas State Rep. Kyle Kacal says guns don’t kill people—ping-pong kills people. "I've heard of people being killed playing ping-pong—ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns," he says. "Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything." The lifetime rancher, who will take his seat in 2013 as a freshman, says that new gun restrictions are unnecessary. Kacal, who reportedly operates a hunting business, notably came out against a bill instructing Texans how to secure their assault weapons. "People know what they need to do to be safe. We don't need to legislate that—it's common sense," he said. "Once everyone's gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone's gun is locked up." Flare-up in war of words between Ackman, Herbalife (NYP) “This is the highest conviction I’ve ever had about any investment I’ve ever made,” Ackman said yesterday in a series of interviews. The investor told CNBC that he expects the Federal Trade Commission will take a “hard look” at the company. The heavyweight battle picked up steam over the last two days and has become, in the typically slow days leading up to Christmas, one of the most-watched events on Wall Street. As the financial world watched, Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson returned fire — calling Ackman’s statements “bogus” and asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the motives of Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital hedge fund. A spokeswoman said if Johnson were allowed the chance to face-off against the investor at the Downtown conference, the CEO “would have been able to tear Mr. Ackman’s premises and interpretation of our business model apart.” Citigroup Said to Give CCA Managers 75% Stake in Funds for Free (Bloomberg) Among Vikram Pandit’s last jobs as Citigroup’s chief executive officer was to decide the fate of the bank’s hedge-fund unit, which employs some of his oldest colleagues. He agreed to give them most of it for free. While Citigroup is keeping a 25 percent stake, managers at the Citi Capital Advisors unit will pay nothing for the remaining 75 percent of that business as it becomes a new firm managing as much as $2.5 billion of the bank’s money, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The lender will pay the executives fees while gradually pulling out assets to comply with impending U.S. rules, said the people, who requested anonymity because the terms aren’t public. The deal was Citigroup’s response to the Volcker rule. Peter Madoff Is Sentenced to 10 Years for His Role in Fraud (Dealbook) A lawyer by training, Peter Madoff is the second figure in the scandal to be sentenced. His older brother, Bernard, pleaded guilty in March 2009 and is serving a prison term of 150 years. UK Boom in Pound Shops: An Austerity-Proof Business Model? (CNBC) Pound shops in the U.K. are reporting massive increases in profits across the board showing that the formula "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" has particular resonance in Britain's current age of austerity. Names like "Poundstretcher," "Poundland" and "99p Stores" in the U.K. have become high street stalwarts as other brands go bust. The chains, immediately recognizable on price point, are opening new stores and reporting record results reflecting the increasing public demand for cheaper goods. U.K. based "Poundland" is one such chain reporting steep sales growth as its range of 3,000 items -- from umbrellas and pregnancy tests (it sells 14,000 a week) to bird feeders and bags of crisps all priced at one pound – resonates with cash-strapped Britons. In the year to April 2012, the Warburg Pincus owned company said its turnover increased 22 percent to 780 million pounds ($1.25 billion) and profits increased by 50 percent to 18.3 million pounds from last year's figure of 12.2 million. Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton admits to life as a $600-an-hour hooker (NYP) Steamy, lingerie-clad images of the champion runner helped tout her services on the Web site of a Vegas escort agency called Haley Heston’s Private Collection, where Favor Hamilton operated under the name “Kelly Lundy,” according to The Smoking Gun. Customers could hire her lithe Olympic-class runner’s body for $600 an hour, $1,000 for two hours and $6,000 for 24 hours. The site described her build as “athletic,” her bosom as “perky,” and her belly button as “pierced.” She was willing to provide horny customers the full “girlfriend experience,” and would also engage in a certain undisclosed sex act for an extra $300. “I enjoy men of all shapes, sizes and colors, and I have an affinity for women (I am bisexual),” “Kelly” wrote on her page on the escort service’s Web site. “I consider dates with couples an experience to cherish.” Her sexual skills reportedly earned her a high rating on The Erotic Review, a Web site frequented by prostitution fans. Favor Hamilton’s lusty secret life might have stayed secret if she had not made the mistake of revealing her true identity to some of her wealthy johns, who went to the media.

Opening Bell: 01.14.13

Goldman May Delay UK Bonuses Until Top Tax Rate Falls (Reuters) Goldman Sachs is considering delaying bonus payments in the U.K. until after April 6, when the top rate of income tax in the country will drop to 45 percent, from 50 percent, a person familiar with the bank's operations said on Sunday. The strategy relates to bonuses that were deferred from 2009, 2010 and 2011, the person said. The Financial Times reported the news earlier today. JPMorgan Said to Weigh Disclosing Whale Report Faulting Dimon (Bloomberg) JPMorgan's board will consider releasing an internal report this week that faults Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon’s oversight of a division that lost more than $6.2 billion on botched trades, said two people with direct knowledge of the matter. The final report, which builds on a preliminary analysis released in July, is critical of senior managers including Dimon, 56, former Chief Financial Officer Doug Braunstein, 51, and ex-Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew, 56, for inadequately supervising traders in a U.K. unit that amassed an illiquid position in credit derivatives last year, the people said. The report, which isn’t complete, will be presented to the board when it meets tomorrow. The directors will then vote on whether to disclose it when the bank announces fourth-quarter results the following day, said the people, who asked not to be named because the report isn’t yet public. Morgan Stanley to trim Dubai staff amid global cuts (Reuters) "The Dubai cuts are part of the bank's global plan. Obviously, the bank is trying to focus on growth opportunities in the region and there has been little growth on the equities side barring Saudi," one of the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter has not been made public. Morgan Stanley's equities business will now focus on Saudi Arabia, the source said, adding that planned cuts at other divisions in the Middle East were minimal. Hedge-Fund Leverage Rises to Most Since 2004 in New Year (Bloomberg) The rising use of borrowed money shows that everyone from the biggest firms to individuals is willing to take more risks after missing the rewards of the bull market that began in 2009. While leverage means bigger losses should stocks decline, investors are betting that record earnings and valuations 9.8 percent below the six-decade average will help push the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index toward the record it set in October 2007. “The first step of increasing risk is just going long, the second part of that is levering up in order to go longer,” James Dunigan, who helps oversee $112 billion as chief investment officer in Philadelphia for PNC Wealth Management, said in a Jan. 8 telephone interview. “Leverage increasing in the hedge-fund area suggests they’re now getting on board.” Goldman: Insurer Knew Paulson Was 'Shorting' (WSJ) Goldman Sachs on Friday fired back at a bond insurer suing it over a soured mortgage-linked deal, arguing in a court filing that ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. "cherry-picked" evidence to bolster its case. ACA in 2011 filed suit against Goldman in New York State Court, alleging Goldman misled it about a 2007 mortgage deal. ACA alleges that Goldman told it that one of Goldman's hedge-fund clients, Paulson & Co., was betting on the deal, when in fact Paulson was betting against it, according to an amended complaint the insurer is seeking to file. Had ACA known Paulson's true position, it never would have insured the deal, according to the amended complaint. Goldman countered in the Friday filing that ACA insured the deal knowing Paulson was betting against residential mortgage-backed securities at the time. ACA analyzed and chose the investments in the deal and should have been alerted by various "red flags" that Paulson wasn't betting on the investment, according to the filing. Primate found to be addicted to porn (NYDN) Gina, a resident of the Seville Zoo in Spain, chose to solely watch adult entertainment channels when a television and remote control was placed in her enclosure. Primatologist Pablo Herreros, writing in Spanish newspaper El Mundo, claimed he made the discovery some years ago on a tour of the nation's chimpanzee enclosures. During his research trip he conducted surveys on the behavior of the animals. Herreros wrote, “What I could never imagine were the surprises prepared for me by a female of this species called Gina who inhabited Seville Zoo.” To enliven Gina's nights, officials apparently decided to install a television, protected behind glass, and gave her a remote control so she could change the channels herself. And enliven herself she did. “The surprise was when they found that within a few days, Gina was not only using the remote control perfectly well, but that she also used to choose the porn channel for entertainment, as many of us would have done, ” Herreros wrote. “Although a small study estimated that porn films are only watched for about 12 minutes on average, the truth is that human and non-human primates possess an intense sexual life.” AIG Sues New York Fed... To Secure Right To Sue Bank Of America (Reuters) American International Group Inc has filed a lawsuit against a vehicle created by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to help bail out the insurer, in a bid to preserve its right to sue Bank of America Corp and other issuers of mortgage debt that went sour. The complaint filed in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeks a declaration that AIG has not transferred billions of dollars of "litigation claims" to Maiden Lane II, including many related to the insurer's $10 billion lawsuit against Bank of America. UK court approves ex-Credit Suisse trader's extradition to U.S. (Reuters) A British court on Monday approved the extradition of a former Credit Suisse trader to the United States, where he is wanted over a $540-million fraud dating back to the subprime mortgage crisis. The case of Kareem Serageldin will now be sent to Home Secretary Theresa May, the interior minister, who under British law has the final say over extraditions to the United States. She is expected to give the green light for the transfer to take place. Serageldin, 39, the Swiss bank's former global head of structured credit, is accused of artificially inflating the prices of mortgage-backed bonds between August 2007 and February 2008, when their real value was plummeting. Equities Bear Brunt of Wall Street Job Cuts on Volume (Bloomberg) Employees on stocks desks fell by 8.5 percent globally in the first nine months of last year, according to a survey by Coalition Ltd., an industry analytics firm. That compares with a 6.6 percent drop in fixed-income workers and a 5.8 percent decrease for origination and advisory functions, the data show. Banks Find Promise Unfulfilled in China Forays (WSJ) Global firms sold about US$44 billion worth of shares in Asian financial institutions in 2012 to institutional investors or other strategic buyers, up from US$32.7 billion in 2011, according to data provider Dealogic. The retreat is gathering pace as a host of new regulations, including the so-called Basel III capital rules, make holding minority stakes in financial institutions more expensive. Thousands Participate In Annual No Pants Subway Ride (CBS) Organizers arranged that starting at 3 p.m., people got on trains at six different stops across the city, took off their pants and put them into their backpack. Participants then acted as if everything was completely normal as they rode on to Union Square. Participants are asked to don typical winter wear such as coats, hats and gloves and act as if they don’t know other pantsless riders, according to organizers. The group said it was just all in good fun. “People are willing to give basically their Sunday afternoon to take off their pants; to do something silly and fun, and you know, a good time,” one participant said. “It makes you feel invincible; superior, because nobody else has any idea what’s going on,” another said. There were no-pants subway rides in dozens of cities in 17 countries Sunday. In New York City, participants were happy it was rather warm. In prior years, the cold has bummed them out.

Opening Bell: 01.17.13

Charges Weigh On Bank Of America's Profit (WSJ) Overall, Bank of America reported a profit of $732 million versus a profit of $1.99 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported earnings of three cents versus 15 cents a year earlier. The most recent period included a per-share impact of 16 cents from the Fannie Mae settlement, a six cent impact from the foreclosure review and litigation expense of five cents a share, among other items. Revenue dropped 25% to $18.66 billion as noninterest income fell 41%. Excluding $700 million of debit valuation and fair value option adjustments, and $3 billion for the cost of $3 billion, revenue was $22.6 billion. Citigroup Earnings Miss Analysts’ Estimates on Litigation (Bloomberg) Net income climbed 25 percent to $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter, or 38 cents a share, from $956 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based lender said today in a statement. Earnings adjusted for one-time items including restructuring costs were 69 cents a share. Twenty-one analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimated 96 cents on average, with some items Citigroup didn’t include. Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat, 52, took over in October and last month announced plans to eliminate about 11,000 employees and pull back from some emerging markets, undoing part of the expansion strategy of his predecessor, Vikram Pandit. Litigation costs included $305 million from a settlement between U.S. banks and federal regulators, who were probing claims that lenders improperly seized homes. Goldman Profits By Going On Offensive (WSJ) The value of Goldman Sachs's investment portfolio doubled last year. Bond underwriting hit a five-year high. The firm's workforce shrank and remaining employees were paid a smaller chunk of overall revenue. Those were just some of the ingredients in a bigger-than-expected profit jump by the New York company, which said net income almost tripled to $2.83 billion in the fourth quarter from $1.01 billion a year earlier. Wednesday's results were packed with evidence of Goldman's discipline in cutting costs, taking less risk with its own money and riding out financial crises in the U.S. and then Europe. Goldman Agonized Over Pay Cuts as Profits Suffered (Reuters) Top executives at Goldman Sachs have been considering deep cuts to staffing levels and pay for at least two years, but feared too many layoffs would leave the firm unprepared for an eventual pickup in business, people familiar with the bank said. They instead chipped away at staff levels and focused on non-personnel expenses that are less painful to cut. But investors pressured the bank to cut costs further, the sources said, and on Wednesday, Goldman gave in. The largest standalone investment bank said in the fourth quarter it cut the percentage of revenues it pays to employees in half to 21 percent. That brings the ratio for the entire year to its second-lowest level since the bank went public in 1999. Fed Concerned About Overheated Markets Amid Record Bond-Buying (Bloomberg) Now, as central bankers boost their stimulus with additional bond purchases, policy makers from Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to Kansas City Fed President Esther George are on the lookout for financial distortions that may reverse abruptly when the Fed stops adding to its portfolio and eventually shrinks it. “Prices of assets such as bonds, agricultural land, and high-yield and leveraged loans are at historically high levels,” George said in a speech last week. “We must not ignore the possibility that the low-interest rate policy may be creating incentives that lead to future financial imbalances.” Estonian president’s Twitter fight with Paul Krugman becomes an opera (RS) A Twitter feud in June between the Estonian president and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who questioned the impact of Estonia’s austerity measures, is being turned into an opera, US composer Eugene Birman told AFP on Wednesday. “Our short opera will be first performed by Iris Oja and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Risto Joost during Tallinn Music Week on April 7,” Birman, who moved from Riga to the US at age of six, told AFP. The piece, in two movements, uses two voices, those of Krugman and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, reflecting their exchanges on the Twitter social network...The bow-tie loving Ilves went on a tweet-rant after Krugman, the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics, argued in a short article entitled “Estonian Rhapsody” that while Estonia had been globally praised for its austerity measures, its recovery was in fact lukewarm. “Let’s write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing…Guess a Nobel in trade means you can pontificate on fiscal matters & declare my country a ‘wasteland,’” Ilves responded on his page on the on the micro-blogging site Twitter. “But yes, what do we know? We’re just dumb and silly East Europeans,” he added, before writing in his final tweet, “Let’s sh*t on East Europeans.” Deutsche Bank Derivative Helped Monte Paschi Mask Losses (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank designed a derivative for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA at the height of the financial crisis that obscured losses at the world’s oldest lender before it sought a taxpayer bailout. Germany’s largest bank loaned Monte Paschi about 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) in December 2008 through the transaction, dubbed Project Santorini, according to more than 70 pages of documents outlining the deal and obtained by Bloomberg News. The trade helped Monte Paschi mitigate a 367 million-euro loss from an older derivative contract with Deutsche Bank. As part of the arrangement, the Italian lender made a losing bet on the value of the country’s government bonds, said six derivatives specialists who reviewed the files. BlackRock Net Jumps 24% (WSJ) The company said net inflows in long-term products totaled $47 billion at the year's end, reflecting equity, fixed income and multiasset class product net inflows of $31.2 billion, $12.4 billion and $4.1 billion, respectively. The net inflows were partially offset by alternatives net outflows of $700 million. Total assets under management were $3.792 trillion as of the end of the fourth quarter, versus $3.513 trillion a year earlier and $3.673 trillion in the third quarter. Jobless Claims Drop To 5-Year Low (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000, the lowest level since January 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the largest weekly drop since February 2010. Khuzami defends corp. settlements (NYP) Robert Khuzami, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement chief, is on his way out the door — but he says in an interview with The Post that the agency’s much-maligned practice of settling cases is here to stay. Khuzami, 56, defended the SEC’s policy of allowing targets to settle cases — usually without an admission of wrongdoing — despite recent criticism. “There are certain myths about SEC practices, including how ‘neither admit nor deny’ works and why we use it,” said Khuzami, who is leaving his post after heading the agency’s crackdown on big banks following the financial crisis. “I speak out against these myths in the hope of reducing the level of cynicism felt by the public, which are often fueled by mischaracterizations or misunderstandings of how we operate.” Commissioners approve regulations governing sexy coffee stands (Kitsap Sun) Owners of adult-themed coffee stands in unincorporated Kitsap County will have to post signs warning would-be customers about their scantily-clad baristas, and they'll have to do more to protect passers-by from seeing into their businesses. That's according to an ordinance passed Monday in a unanimous vote of the Kitsap County commissioners. The stands have 60 days to comply with the changes, which include a site visit by county planning staff to check the signs are posted and additional screening is added...The ordinance requires adult espresso stands — the three existing stands and any new ones — to install an 8-foot-high fence or landscape buffer, approved by the county Department of Community Development, in front of windows that face the street or other businesses, blocking views by the public. Businesses also must receive a one-time certification from DCD to guarantee the regulations are met. A boiling point was hit more than a year ago when five stands — three of them within a half-mile stretch of Highway 303 — advertised employees in pasties and lingerie. Unhappy parents demanded commissioners regulate the businesses. The health department doesn't require clothing, instead it looks at whether employees have food handler permits, said Department of Community Development associate planner Heather Adams. The state Department of Labor and Industries also has no rules dictating required clothing at coffee stands, Adams said.

Opening Bell: 07.03.12

Barclays CEO Resigns (WSJ) Robert Diamond Robert Diamond resigned Tuesday amid intense political and investor pressure from the British bank's involvement in rigging an important interest-rate benchmark—and another senior executive appeared close to following him out the door. The scandal is tearing through Barclays's top ranks. Two people close to the bank said Tuesday that Jerry del Missier, the chief operating officer, is likely to step down from his role. Monday, the bank said Chairman Marcus Agius would resign. Mr. Agius will remain chairman while Barclays searches for his replacement—and for a new chief executive, the bank said. Mr. Diamond will leave the bank immediately...Mr. Diamond's departure comes one day before the CEO will face tough questions from the U.K.'s Treasury Select Committee about the rate-fixing efforts at Barclays. Key will be whether Mr. Diamond or his top managers expressly ordered traders to submit lower rates to make the bank's funding position look stronger during the financial crisis. Mr. Diamond had a conversation with top Bank of England official Paul Tucker about Libor rates in 2008, according to the report by regulators and people familiar with the matter. Osborne Hails Diamond Departure With Pledge To Fix Banks (Bloomberg) “It’s the right decision for Barclays, it’s the right decision for the country; we need Barclays to be focused on lending,” Osborne told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “I hope it’s the first step towards a new culture of responsibility in British banking.” Barclays Chief Threatens To Hit Back (FT) Bob Diamond isthreatening to reveal potentially embarrassing details about Barclays’ dealings with regulators if he comes under fire at a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday over the Libor rate-setting scandal, according to people close to the bank’s chief executive. “If he is attacked, he will fight back,” said one person familiar with preparations for the Treasury select committee hearing. Athens Seeks Improved Bailout Deal (WSJ) Greece will push for a better bailout agreement when it resumes long-stalled talks with international lenders this week, despite warnings from a European central banker Monday that the country must press ahead with its reform program and not dally further in meeting its commitments. Morgan Stanley Got S&P To Inflate Ratings, Investors Say (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley successfully pushed Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service Inc. to give unwarranted investment-grade ratings in 2006 to $23 billion worth of notes backed by subprime mortgages, investors claimed in a lawsuit, citing documents unsealed in federal court...The lawsuit focuses on notes issued by Cheyne Finance Plc, a so-called structured-investment vehicle that collapsed in 2007. CEO Of Poker Site Full Tilt Is Arrested (WSJ) The chief executive of Full Tilt Poker, the beleaguered one-time Web poker giant, was arrested Monday on a plane that had just landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport as the government unveiled new criminal charges against him related to an alleged Ponzi scheme. Ray Bitar, 40 years old, is the most significant person yet to turn himself into the Justice Department's 15-month-long effort to prosecute the three one-time leading online poker companies in the U.S. He pleaded not guilty in a hearing in Manhattan federal court Monday, and will be able to be out on bail after posting a $2.5 million bond, a judge ruled. Ex-JPMorgan Trader Feldstein Biggest Winner Betting Against Bank (Bloomberg) Andrew Feldstein, who bet against JPMorgan Chase before helping the bank unwind more than $20 billion of trades, has emerged as one of the biggest winners among hedge-fund managers profiting from a flawed strategy. The $4.3 billion flagship fund of Feldstein’s BlueMountain Capital Management LLC returned 9.5 percent this year through June 22, according to a person familiar with the data. That’s up from the 5.4 percent return before JPMorgan announced a $2 billion loss by one of its traders known as the London Whale. BlueMountain, which was on the other side of those wagers, stands to make as much as $300 million, said market participants familiar with the trades. Facebook wants to cash in on 'like' button (NYP) On the hunt for new revenue streams, Facebook is pitching TV chiefs on a new online video ad model that would monetize its popular “like” button, The Post has learned. Under the plan being discussed by the social network giant and some cable TV executives, Facebook would give the networks the ability to ascertain the popularity of certain video content on its platform while taking a cut of the added ad revenue created by the increased exposure, sources said. The idea has been met with mixed reviews. “It’s hard to pin down the measure of a like,” said one senior TV executive, who added that any deal would likely have a cap to limit a company’s exposure to paying for an astronomical increase in likes. Bob Diamond Withdraws From Romney Event (FT) He's a little tied up now. Who Will Take Over For Diamond? (FT) Antony Jenkins, who runs Barclays’ retail banking operations, is seen as the most likely internal replacement for Mr Diamond as chief executive, with investment banking boss Rich Ricci also seen as a candidate. Jerry del Missier, Mr Diamond’s longtime associate who recently moved from co-head of investment banking to be chief operating officer, is not in the running for the top job. Some say he will also leave the bank. Chinese 'cannibal' attack caught on camera as drunk bus driver leaps on woman and chews on her face (NYDN) The recent terrifying spate of 'cannibal attacks' seems to have spread to China, as a drunk bus driver was caught on camera gnawing at a woman's face in a horrific random attack. The unfortunate woman will apparently require plastic surgery to repair the damage done by her crazed attacker. According to local news reports, the driver, named Dong, had been drinking heavily during lunch with his friends before the outburst on Tuesday.

Opening Bell: 11.15.12

FSA Warns Global Banks Over Bonus Levels (FT) Global banks operating in London have been warned by the top UK bank supervisor that this year’s staff bonuses must reflect the mis-selling and market manipulation scandals that have damaged the sector in the past 12 months. Andrew Bailey, head of the Financial Services Authority’s prudential business unit, wrote to bank chief executives in late October ahead of this year’s bonus round warning them that the watchdog would be looking for evidence they had “clawed back” deferred bonuses from people involved in scandals. He also urged banks to consider firm-wide bonus reductions to account for the impact of the scandals. The letter went not only to UK banks but also global institutions with substantial presences in the country. Blankfein Backs Higher Taxes (NYP) “I believe that tax increases, especially for the wealthiest, are appropriate,” Blankfein wrote in his 1,000-plus-word column entitled “The Business Plan for American Revival.” He added that raising taxes needed to be coupled with “serious” cuts to discretionary spending and entitlements. JPMorgan Energy Unit Curbed (WSJ) U.S. energy-market regulators Wednesday handed J.P. Morgan Chase's energy-trading unit a six-month suspension from some of its activities in electricity markets, the latest in a string of clashes with Wall Street. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission cited false information it has said the company submitted as part of a probe into alleged market manipulation. It was a rare move for the commission and another signal that it is trying to assert itself as a regulatory heavy hitter. The agency, which oversees transmission lines and natural-gas pipelines, also recently proposed a record penalty of nearly $470 million against Barclays for alleged market manipulation. Barclays denies the charges. FHA Nears Need For Taxpayer Funds (WSJ) The Federal Housing Administration is expected to report this week it could exhaust its reserves because of rising mortgage delinquencies, according to people familiar with the agency's finances, a development that could result in the agency needing to draw on taxpayer funding for the first time in its 78-year history. Fed Moves Toward Tying Interest-Rate Decisions to Economic Data (Bloomberg) Policy makers “generally favored the use of economic variables” to provide guidance on the when they are likely to approve their first interest-rate increase since 2008, according to minutes of their Oct. 23-24 meeting released yesterday. Such measures might replace or supplement a calendar date, currently set at mid-2015. Israel Wages Twitter War With Hamas Over #Gaza Attacks (BusinessWeek) The Israeli Defense Forces took to its Twitter account yesterday to announce “a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the Gaza Strip” even as its jets began attacking. Within minutes, Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, announced through its English-language account the assassination of its “top leader Ahmed Jabari” by “Israeli drones.” As Israeli jets bombarded suspected missile facilities and other buildings in Gaza, the service run by San Francisco-based Twitter lit up with 140-character chronicles of the assault and the reaction. Most of the messages known as tweets were identified with #Gaza, a “hashtag” with a pound sign before a key word that lets those on Twitter search for information. The two sides even fought for sympathy through the names they gave the operation. While Israeli tweeters called it #PillarOfDefense, Palestinians used #GazaUnderAttack. As airstrikes intensified, an IDF spokesman tweeted that “we recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces aboveground in the days ahead.” Hamas’s @AlqassamBrigades account quickly retorted, “@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves.” Hedge Funds Back Off Apple (NYP) Lee Ainslie’s Maverick Capital, Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global, Eric Mindich’s Eton Park Capital, David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital and Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors each pared their Apple positions during the quarter, according to reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission filed yesterday...Despite selling off Apple shares, the tech titan remains one of the biggest holdings for Maverick, Tiger Global and Greenlight. In fact, its slide pushed their monthly returns negative. Jobless Claims Rise Following Storm (WSJ) People seeking unemployment benefits increased by 78,000 to a seasonally adjusted 439,000 in the week ended Nov. 10, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 375,000 new applications for jobless benefits. Bank of America Slashes $4.75 Billion Off Mortgages (CNBC) The bank, which took on the burden of Countrywide Financial’s mortgage ills when it bought the company, has completed or approved a total of $15.8 billion in consumer relief for about 164,000 homeowners as of Sept. 30 and is on track, according to officials, to meet its total financial obligations within the first year of the three-year agreement. South Africa holds diamond smuggler who swallowed 220 gems (BBC) South African police have arrested a man who they say swallowed 220 polished diamonds in an attempt to smuggle them out of the country. The man was arrested as he waited to board a plane at Johannesburg airport. Officials said a scan of his body revealed the diamonds he had ingested, worth $2.3m (£1.4m; 1.8m euros), inside.

Opening Bell: 01.28.13

Davos Money Men Say World Emerges From Doldrums Fretting Relapse (Bloomberg) “Optimism, but with a sober tone,” was how Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan characterized the mood pervading the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, even as investors were lifting the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index above 1,500 for the first time since 2007. Fed To Keep Money Spigot Open (WSJ) Federal Reserve officials are likely to continue their easy-money policies when they gather this week to weigh a mixed economic outlook and a recent run of low inflation. The Fed has said it would maintain its $85 billion bond-buying programs, aimed at boosting the economy by lowering long-term interest rates, until it sees substantial progress in labor markets. It has also said it would keep short-term interest rates near zero until the jobless rate drops to at least 6.5%, as long as inflation remains steady. Beneath the Calm, SAC Works to Contain Fallout From Inquiry (NYT) "This has always been a stressful place to work," said an SAC employee who requested anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak publicly about the fund. "Now it's just more stressful." Mr. Cohen's fund was dealt a blow last week when a Citigroup unit that manages money for wealthy families disclosed that it was withdrawing its $187 million investment. The move by the bank was the most prominent client departure since November, when the multiyear investigation into SAC's trading practices entered a more serious phase. Citigroup's withdrawal represents a tiny percentage of SAC's $14 billion in assets under management. The fund has said it expects total investor redemptions for the first quarter of up to $1 billion, a number that an SAC spokesman has said will not adversely affect its business...Still, the Citigroup decision stung, say peopleclose to SAC's business, because of the longstanding and lucrative relationship between the bank and the fund. Another concern, said these people, is that the move could influence other large SAC investors currently weighing whether to keep their money at the fund. For Citigroup, its withdrawal of money from SAC carries substantial business risk. The bank has a vast relationship with SAC, earning revenue by providing the fund with financing and trading services. SAC could exact retribution on Citigroup by terminating, or at least scaling back, its broader relationship with the bank. An SAC spokesman declined to comment. Credit Suisse Could Owe $2 Billion Over Fraud (Reuters) Credit Suisse Group faces a potential $2 billion of exposure over fraud that occurred a decade ago at National Century Financial Enterprises, a result of a federal judge's determination on how to apportion responsibility. Friday's decision by U.S. District Judge James Graham could expose the Swiss bank to hundreds of millions of dollars of added liability over the activities of Lance Poulsen, who co-founded National Century in 1990 and was its chief executive. He is now serving a 30-year prison term and is presumed insolvent. Goldman Raising $1 Billion From ICBC Share Sale (WSJ) The Wall Street company is selling the Hong Kong-listed shares in a block trade at 5.77 Hong Kong dollars (US$0.74) each, the people said, without disclosing the number of shares. The price represents a 3.0% discount to ICBC's HK$5.95 closing price Monday. A person familiar with the situation said the sale reflects prudent risk management on Goldman's part to reduce the size of its ICBC investment. MBA's Salary Enhancing Power Slashed (FT) Students on the top US MBA programs in the mid-1990s saw their salaries triple in five years, but those who graduated from the same schools in 2008 and 2009 saw that increase halved, according to data collected for the FT's annual Global MBA rankings. At the same time, MBA fees have risen by 7 percent a year. MBA students who enrolled in 2012 paid 62 percent more in fees - up 44 percent in real terms - than those who began their programs in 2005, even though the increases in post-MBA salaries remained in line with inflation. Beyonce has yet to apologize to Chuck Schumer for lip-syncing at inauguration (NYP) The New York senator angrily admitted yesterday that the pop queen has not called him to say sorry after she turned last week’s inaugural bash into an unexpected Milli Vanilli concert by lip-syncing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” “I have not heard from her before, during or after,” a testy Schumer told The Post after he was asked if Beyoncé had called him to give a musical mea culpa. “She did not talk to me at all. I didn’t say any words to her, period.” Schumer has been credited with drawing the pop diva and her hubby Jay-Z to the inauguration, where many said they stole the show from the president and first lady walking hand-in-hand on the steps of Capitol Hill. Schumer was seen beaming with pride just steps behind Beyoncé while she appeared to be belting out the National Anthem. Obama administration insiders and inauguration planners were in the dark about Beyoncé’s decision to use a prerecorded tape of her singing with the Marine Band during the swearing in. They were later left fuming over the embarrassment, according to reports. Some on Capitol Hill have even placed the blame on Schumer for the Star-Spangled sham. There’s a Twinkie in the eye of Apollo (NYP) Hostess Brands is expected to name Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management as the preferred bidder for Twinkies and its other snack brands, The Post has learned. The announcement from the bankrupt baker could come as soon as today, sources said. The selection of Apollo would give Manhattan buyout billionaire Leon Black the inside track to buying one of the country’s most well-known consumer brands. Black’s Apollo and co-bidder C. Dean Metropoulos, a veteran food exec, were vying with Grupo Bimbo, the Mexico-based baker, for the right to be the preferred, or stalking horse, bidder for Twinkies, Ho Ho’s, Ding Dongs and other Hostess snacks. Bank of America Moves $50 Billion of Derivatives to UK (FT) Bank of America has begun moving more than $50bn of derivatives business out of its Dublin-based operation and into its UK subsidiary, according to people close to the operation. The move, part of the group's global drive to rationalize its operations, has been encouraged by regulators but will also allow BofA to benefit from tax breaks stemming from the accumulated losses in its UK business. Singer Backs Off Aggressive Stance In Dealings With Buenos Aires (NYP) After a decade of aggressively pursuing $1.44 billion he claims the country owes him and a group of bondholders, including successfully pressing Ghana to seize a locally docked Argentine naval vessel to help pay down the debt, the billionaire New York hedge fund mogul is sounding like Bobby McFerrin in “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Singer’s Elliott Management now feels Argentina will do the right thing, according to recent court filings. It’s quite a change from last fall’s legal arguments, in which Singer urged a federal judge to hurry up and force Buenos Aires to put some of the monies owed into escrow, citing the country’s president’s plot to avoid the debt payment. Italians Have a New Tool to Unearth Tax Cheats (NYT) Despite the government's best efforts, tax evasion remains something of a pastime in Italy, where, famously, more than a few of the Ferrari-driving set claim impoverishment when it comes to declaring their incomes. So this month, not without controversy, the National Revenue Agency decided to try a new tack. Rather than attempting to ferret out how much suspected tax cheats earn, the agency began trying to infer it from how much they spend. The new tool, known as the ''redditometro,'' or income measurer, aims to minimize the wiggle room for evasion by examining a taxpayer's expenditures in dozens of categories, like household costs, car ownership, vacations, gym subscriptions, cellphone usage and clothing. If the taxpayer's spending appears to be more than 20 percent greater than the income he or she has declared, the agency will ask for an explanation. Traders Make Peace With Computers (WSJ) On a recent day on Barclays PLC's stock-trading desk in Manhattan, an electronic platform posted a notice that Barclays was selling a large block of Pfizer shares. In recent years, a computer typically would have swiftly matched such an order with a buyer, sidestepping trading floors altogether. But soft trading volume has left many traders unable to move stock as quickly as they might like. That is one reason why Barclays connected its recently launched DirectEx platform to its trading floor. The move paid off when a client who was buying 150,000 shares on the electronic network decided, after chatting with a Barclays salesman, to take an additional 150,000 shares. Woman Found with 92 Pounds of Marijuana in N. Bellmore (Patch) According to detectives, around 6 p.m., an unmarked First Precinct police car observed Mizzie Artis, 27, of Bellport, operating a 1999 Hyundai eastbound on Columbus Avenue while talking on a cell phone and not wearing a seat belt. Police then observed Artis drive to Armand Street where she met with a male subject in a minivan. As officers drove by both vehicles to further observe, the male subject fled the scene in the van, police said. Artis drove away and failed to stop at a stop sign and did not signal when turning, police said. Officers stopped Artis and, upon approaching the car, observed two large cardboard boxes in the auto. Officers also detected an odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. K-9 officers responded to the scene and performed a narcotic search of the vehicle. The cardboard boxes in the front seat had a positive alert for narcotics, police said. Two additional boxes were recovered from the trunk containing marijuana, bringing the total approximate weight to 92 pounds.