Opening Bell: 5.4.16

China tells commentators to buck up on economy; Banks settle rate-rigging lawsuit; Bert and Ernie used in ad for at-home STD testing service; and more.
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China Warns Economists to Brighten Outlooks (WSJ)
Securities regulators, media censors and other government officials have issued verbal warnings to commentators whose public remarks on the economy are out of step with the government’s upbeat statements, according to government officials and commentators with knowledge of the matter. The stepped-up censorship, many inside and outside the ruling Communist Party say, represents an effort by China’s leadership to quell growing concerns about the country’s economic prospects as it experiences a prolonged slowdown in growth. As more citizens try to take money out of the country, officials say, regulators and censors are trying to foster an environment of what party officials have dubbed “zhengnengliang,” or “positive energy.”

Seven big banks settle U.S. rate-rigging lawsuit for $324 million (Reuters)
Seven of the world's biggest banks have agreed to pay $324 million to settle a private U.S. lawsuit accusing them of rigging an interest rate benchmark used in the $553 trillion derivatives market. The settlement made public on Tuesday, which requires court approval, resolves antitrust claims against Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), Barclays Plc (BARC.L), Citigroup Inc (C.N), Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN.S), Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE), JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc (RBS.L).

Two Fed Officials Signal Markets May Be Wrong to Doubt June Hike (Bloomberg)
Atlanta Fed chief Dennis Lockhart and San Francisco’s John Williams both signaled on Tuesday that the U.S. economy could warrant a rate hike when the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee gathers on June 14-15. Investors currently only see a 12 percent chance of such a move, according to pricing in interest rate futures contracts.

Beyonce Goes From Lemonade to Watermelons With Juice Investment (Bloomberg)
Beyonce, fresh off one of the most elaborate record promotions in music history, is investing in a three-year-old startup that sells watermelon water, becoming the latest celebrity to take a more entrepreneurial approach to endorsements. The entertainer on Tuesday announced an investment in World Waters LLC, which produces a sports drink made with watermelon juice processed at high pressure.

Bert and Ernie used in ad for at-home STD testing service (NYP)
The makers of a new, at-home testing service for people with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases has been using Bert and Ernie in a campaign to promote their company. “Help us take STD Testing out of the Stone Age,” the company, Matley, writes on Facebook, in a post accompanied by a picture of the famous Sesame Street duo. The show has claimed for years that Bert and Ernie were simply buddies, but that didn’t stop the New York-based developers from using the pair to help raise money and promote their services, which appear to be aimed at homosexual males. The pals — long rumored to be lovers — can be seen in the Facebook post looking at a set of papers, with Bert taken aback. “See Ernie, you’ve got nothing to worry about, everything is positive!” a caption reads. Along with the ad, Matley linked to an Indiegogo fundraising page, which is currently seeking $500,000 in donations. The decision to use the Sesame Street characters didn’t sit too well with show.

China's Improbable Commodities Frenzy Leaves Stocks in the Dust (Bloomberg)
The intensity of futures trading on Chinese commodities exchanges is making some of the world’s most liquid markets look leisurely. The average iron ore and steel rebar contracts on the Shanghai Futures Exchange are held for less than four hours, compared with almost 40 hours for WTI crude futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Just give the US a flat tax, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman says (CNBC)
"You don't have to have just one tax for everyone; you can have one or two and get rid of all deductions," Schwarzman told CNBC's "Fast Money Halftime Report," adding the revenue from a flat tax would be enough to fund the entire U.S. government. "It tends to work all over the world. One should look empirically: We have a tax code that's so long ... that nobody figures it out. What happens when you get simple numbers, whether it's 10 percent at the bottom and 20 percent at the top, you get rid of all deductions … it has a sense of working," he said.

Offices Give Workers Some ‘Me Time’ (WSJ)
While her co-workers reviewed budgets back at the office one recent Friday, Holly Pickering was wandering in the woods at a yoga retreat. Ms. Pickering, a yield analyst at a travel company, wasn’t on vacation, nor was she taking a mental-health day. She was indulging in some “me time,” and her employer was all for it. A handful of companies have begun offering workers paid days off to spend on themselves, in addition to vacation time and personal and sick days. LinkedIn Corp. employees get monthly meeting-free “InDays” to hang out or go on company outings. At Waterford Research Institute LLC, a nonprofit group focused on education, staff members get twice-a-year “Ferris Bueller” days, named for the 1986 Matthew Broderick movie about students who skip school to spend an antic day in Chicago. Outdoor outfitter REI’s 13,000 employees get two paid “yay days” annually to commune with nature—and document their exploits on social media.

Website boasts realistic 'fake doctors notes' with money-back guarantee (UPI)
A website offering "fake doctors notes" to help customers get out of work, school or other duties is offering a 100-percent-refund guarantee. The website, BestFakeDoctorsNotes.net, offers phony excuses purporting to be from healthcare providers including general practitioners, dentists, gynecologists, oncologists and other types of doctors. The site offers purported testimonials from supposedly satisfied customers who used the faux doctors notes to get out of work and school commitments...The service includes call-back numbers that will play a pre-loaded MP3 message to anyone who tries to verify the authenticity of the notes. The site offers a one-year "no questions asked" refund guarantee for anyone whose notes fail to pass scrutiny.

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Opening Bell: 12.14.12

UBS Unit Said to Be Close to Guilty Plea in Rate-Rigging Scandal (NYT) Federal prosecutors are close to securing a guilty plea from a UBS subsidiary at the center of a global investigation into interest rate manipulation, the first big bank to agree to criminal charges in more than a decade. UBS is in final negotiations with American, British and Swiss authorities to settle accusations that its employees reported false rates, a deal in which the bank's Japanese unit is expected to plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to people briefed on the matter who spoke of private discussions on the condition of anonymity. Along with the rare admission of criminal wrongdoing at the subsidiary, UBS could face about $1 billion in fines and regulatory sanctions, the people said. Meet Them In St. Louis: Bankers Move (WSJ) Smaller cities around the nation have emerged as unlikely hives of financial-services hiring, thanks to lower wages, municipal-tax incentives and the misfortunes of older hubs that are home to companies ravaged by the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The beneficiaries are spread across the U.S., according to an analysis of data by The Wall Street Journal. In St. Louis, the 19th-largest U.S. metropolitan area, securities-industry employment surged 85% between January 2007 and September 2012 to a recent 12,190, according to figures compiled by Moody's Analytics. New York lost 9% of its jobs in the securities, commodities, asset-management and fiduciary-trust areas over the same period, leaving it with 195,000. Counter-Terrorism Tools Used to Spot Staff Fraud (FT) JPMorgan Chase has turned to technology used for countering terrorism to spot fraud risk among its own employees and to tackle problems such as deciding how much to charge when selling property behind troubled mortgages. The technology involves crunching vast amounts of data to identify hard-to-detect patterns in markets or individual behavior that could reveal risks or openings to make money. Other banks are also turning to "big data", the name given to using large bodies of information, to identify potential rogue traders who might land them with massive losses, according to experts in the field...Guy Chiarello, JPMorgan's chief information officer, said the bank was mining massive bodies of data in "a couple of dozen projects" that promised to have a significant affect on its business, although he refused to give further details. According to three people familiar with its activities, JPMorgan has used Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley company whose technology was honed while working for the US intelligence services, for part of its effort. It first used the technology to spot fraudsters trying to hack into client accounts or ATMs, but has recently started to turn it on its own 250,000-strong staff. Obama Meets Boehner at White House for Budget Talks (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met for a third time at the White House to discuss averting spending cuts and tax increases before a year- end deadline. Boehner and Obama met for almost an hour yesterday, with no public announcement of progress. In January, more than $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases, the so-called fiscal cliff, are scheduled to begin. “The president and speaker had a frank meeting in the Oval Office,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in an e-mailed statement, adding that the “lines of communication remain open.” Britain's Queen Quizzes Central Bank on Financial Crisis (CNBC) During a visit to the Bank of England on Thursday, the Queen was overheard asking whether a "lax" attitude to financial regulation had contributed to the financial crisis. After touring the vast vaults of gold bullion that lie beneath the central bank in London, Queen Elizabeth reportedly asked the central bank officials whether the Financial Services Authority (FSA) that was meant to regulate the banking system had not been aggressive enough - "did not have the teeth" - in its response to the crisis...The Queen was then told that officials in the room were charged with ensuring the crisis did not happen again. The Queen's husband, Prince Philip, then jokingly asked "There's not another one coming, is there?" before telling the officials present "Don't do it again." John McAfee Returns to US, Admits Playing 'Crazy Card' (ABC) After three weeks ducking authorities in Belize, by hiding in attics, in the jungle and in dingy hotels, he turned up in Guatemala Dec. 3. Barely a day later he was detained for entering the country illegally. As Guatemala officials grappled with how to handle his request for asylum and the Belize government's demand for his deportation, McAfee fell ill. The mysterious illness, described by his attorney alternately as a heart ailment or a nervous breakdown, led to a scene with reporters chasing his ambulance down the narrow streets of Guatemala City and right into the emergency room, where McAfee appeared unresponsive. He now says it was all a ruse: "It was a deception but who did it hurt? I look pretty healthy, don't I?" He says he faked the illness in order to buy some time for a judge to hear his case and stay his deportation to Belize, a government he believes wants him dead. When asked whether he believes Belize officials where inept, he didn't mince words. "I was on the run with a 20-year-old girl for three and a half weeks inside their borders and everyone was looking for me, and they did not catch me," he said. "I escaped, was captured and they tried to send me back. Now I'm sitting in Miami. There had to be some ineptness." [...] He denies any involvement in his neighbor's death but adds that he is not particularly concerned about clearing his name. He is focused on getting his 20-year-old and 17-year-old girlfriends out of Belize and says he has no idea what he'll do next, where he'll live or how he'll support himself. CNBC v. Buffett (NYP) The “Oracle of Omaha” sent a terse e-mail to editors at CNBC yesterday after a reporter for the cable news network railed against his recent repurchase of Berkshire Hathaway shares. Gary Kaminsky, CNBC’s capital markets editor, took Buffett to task for the $1.2 billion stock buyback, calling it “hypocritical to the maximum level.” Kaminsky claimed that Buffett’s purchase allowed the seller — described by Berkshire as the “estate of a long-time shareholder” — to avoid potentially higher capital gains taxes next year...In his rebuttal e-mail, Buffett said capital gains taxes don’t apply to estates. “Mr. Kaminsky also made the statement that the estate that was a seller was better off by selling in 2012 than 2013,” he wrote. “This, too, was incorrect.” He said capital gains are wiped out by stepped-up basis rules, with assets marked at their current fair-market value at the time of death. Buffett also blasted Kaminsky for saying his buyback was hypocritical on principal as Buffett is known to eschew buybacks. Buffett attached a copy of Berkshire’s 1984 annual report showing he has outlined conditions under which he would favor buybacks. CNBC anchor Melissa Lee read a correction late Tuesday that thanked the famed investor for “watching and setting us straight.” Fisher: Fed Risks 'Hotel California' Monetary Policy (CNBC) Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told CNBC that he's worried the U.S. central bank is in a "Hotel California" type of monetary policy because of its "engorged balance sheet." Evoking lyrics from the famous song by The Eagles, he said he feared the Fed would be able to "check out anytime you like, but never leave." Fisher said on "Squawk Box" that he argued against revealing the new inflation and unemployment targets set by the Fed this week, saying he's worried that the markets will become "overly concerned" with the thresholds. Euro-Zone Downturn Eases (WSJ) Data company Markit said on Friday its preliminary purchasing managers' index, a gauge of activity among euro-zone factories and services companies, rose to 47.3 in December from 46.5 in November. A reading above 50.0 would signal an expansion. The national measure for Germany picked up to 50.5 from 49.2 in November, indicating that activity rose in the euro zone's largest member. "The euro-zone downturn showed further signs of easing in December, adding to hopes that the outlook for next year is brightening," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit. Residents find neighbor at their door with machete (KS) A 38-year-old Bremerton man was arrested by police Monday night for allegedly confronting his neighbors with a machete in response to alleged vandalism at his residence, according to documents filed in Kitsap County District Court. Officers were called to a Nollwood Lane address shortly after 8 p.m. Monday. Two residents said when they answered a knock at their door, a man was standing in the doorway holding a machete. The man, a neighbor, reportedly said he was tired of vandalism to his home and blamed it on a family member of his neighbors, police said. The neighbors attempted to slam the door on the man, but he reportedly put his foot into the door holding it open, police said. The neighbors were ultimately able to close it, though the suspect denies he put his foot in the door. Police interviewed the man, 38, who admitted he'd retrieved the machete out of anger after another incident of vandalism.

Opening Bell: 12.28.12

Blackstone seen sticking with SAC despite insider trading probe (Reuters / Matthew Goldstein) Three sources said the asset management arm of Blackstone, which has $550 million invested with SAC Capital, is in no rush to redeem money from the Stamford, Connecticut-based hedge fund. Blackstone has had at least three discussions with the $14 billion hedge fund's executives about the insider trading investigation and talked to its own investors, which include state pension funds, endowments and wealthy individuals. Hitler parody leaves French bank BNP red-faced (IN24) French banking giant BNP was left red-faced this week after it emerged managers were shown a motivational video featuring a parody of a famous scene from the film "Downfall" in which Adolf Hitler is portrayed as the boss of Germany's Deutsche Bank. It’s a scene that has been parodied thousands of times before to comic effect. But it appears not many people have seen the funny side of one particular version made by executives of French bank BNP Paribas...In the video, which was shown to around 100 managers from around the world at a seminar in Amsterdam last year, Hitler is turned into a fuming boss of Germany’s Deutsche Bank reacting furiously to news that BNP has gained an edge in the foreign exchange market. But far from being motivated, many of the managers who saw the video were outraged. “We could not believe the bank had actually dared to do that – make an analogy between our competitors and the Nazi regime. It took us a few minutes to take it in,” one BNP employee told French daily Liberation, who revealed the story this week. “We were shocked. Nobody knew how to react. Some Jewish employees from the United States did not find it funny at all,” another employee told the paper. “If this video had been shown by an American bank it would have been a major scandal,” an angry BNP source added. Rather surprisingly the video is believed to have been uploaded to the bank’s internal Intranet site before the management realised it might prove embarrassing and quickly removed it. A spokeswoman for BNP told FRANCE 24 on Friday that the bank’s senior management were totally unaware the video had been made until they were contacted by Libération this week. The spokeswoman said BNP’s CEO Jean Laurent Bonnafé had called his counterpart at Deutsche Bank Jürgen Fitschen to personally apologise for the stunt. In a statement in Libération the bank added that the message in the video was “contrary to the values of BNP." Obama Summons Congress Leaders as Budget Deadline Nears (Bloomberg) Obama, who had been negotiating one-on-one with House Speaker John Boehner, will meet today with Republicans Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats. Cliff Talks Down To The Wire (WSJ) It is still possible the two sides can reach a deal, especially with the leaders meeting Friday. Any resolution would be a scaled-back version of the package Mr. Obama and congressional leaders had anticipated passing after the November election. The White House is pressing for the Senate to extend current tax rates for income up to $250,000, extend unemployment benefits, keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting millions of additional taxpayers and delay spending cuts set to take effect in January. The 11th-hour strategy carries enormous risk because it leaves no margin for error in Congress's balky legislative machinery. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said the prospects for passage of a bill before the last day of the year are fading rapidly. "I have to be very honest," he said. "I don't know time-wise how it can happen now." Spain's PM does not rule out asking for European aid (Reuters) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Friday he did not rule out tapping the European Central Bank's bond-buying program for troubled euro zone governments but said Spain did not expect to have to ask for aid for now. "We are not thinking of asking the European Central Bank to intervene and buy bonds in the secondary market," he said at a news conference in Madrid. "But we can't rule it out in the future." Banks pay $4.5M for muni charges (NYP) Citigroup and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch are among five firms that will pay $4.48 million to settle regulatory claims they used funds from municipal and state bond deals to pay lobbyists. Local authorities were unfairly asked to reimburse payments that the firms made over five years to the California Public Securities Association, a lobbying group, to help influence the state, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which oversees securities firms, said yesterday. The firms inadequately described the fees, wrapping them into bond-underwriting expenses, Finra said...The banks, also including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, agreed to pay $3.35 million in fines and reimburse certain California bond issuers $1.13 million. Porsche Wins Dismissal of US Hedge Fund Lawsuit Over VW (Reuters) A five-justice panel of the New York State appeals court in Manhattan unanimously found that Porsche had met its "heavy burden" to establish that the state was the wrong place in which to bring the lawsuit. That panel reversed an Aug. 6 ruling by New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos that let the case by hedge funds including Glenhill Capital LP, David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital LP and Chase Coleman's Tiger Global LP proceed. The funds accused Porsche of engineering a "massive short squeeze" in October 2008 by quietly buying nearly all freely traded ordinary VW shares in a bid to take over the company, despite publicly stating it had no plans to take a 75 percent stake. IPOs Slump To Lowest Levels Since Financial Crisis (Bloomberg) IPOs have raised $112 billion worldwide this year, the least since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Initial sales in western Europe dropped to one-third of last year’s level, while concern about China’s economy helped cut proceeds in Asia by almost half. U.S. offerings raised $41 billion, little changed from last year, as Facebook’s IPO spurred a monthlong drought in U.S. deals. Avery Johnson Jr. vents on Twitter after dad, Avery Johnson, is fired by Brooklyn Nets (NYDN, RELATED) The ex-Nets coach’s teenage son took to Twitter to vent after news broke that his dad had been given a pink slip by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets. “This is a f------ Outrage. My dad is a great coach, he just got coach of the month and they Fire him. #Smh. Completely new team he had,” Johnson Jr. wrote on Twitter. “The expectations were way to high for this team. We didn’t even have a losing record.... Didn’t even give my dad a full season. #OUTRAGE,” Johnson Jr. continued. Johnson was fired a day after the new-look Nets fell to .500 following a listless road loss to the Bucks. The canning comes on the heels of Deron Williams saying he’s never been comfortable playing in Johnson’s offense. Williams, who did not play in Wednesday night’s loss, is mired in a season-long shooting slump with field goal and 3-point percentages at career-worst levels. “I’m sorry (our) best players couldn’t make open shots. Yeah that’s my dad’s fault totally,” Johnson Jr. tweeted. 'Whale' Capsized Banks' Rule Effort (WSJ) Wall Street banks entered 2012 confident they could stall a wave of rules that they feared would hurt profits. But they are ending the year largely resigned that their activities will be constrained and monitored more closely by the government. One big reason for the change: J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.76% & Co.'s "London whale" losses. The bad trades, ultimately resulting in about $6 billion in losses, disrupted the banks' campaign against the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, according to regulators, lawmakers and close observers of policy debates in Washington. The trades damaged the reputation of J.P. Morgan, which suffered less than other banks from the financial crisis, and its chief executive, James Dimon, during a crucial period of policy debate in Washington, putting critics of Dodd-Frank on the defensive. Before news of the whale losses emerged, banks were arguing, with some success, that too-tight regulations were crimping lending during a time of slow growth. Michael Greenberger, a finance professor at the University of Maryland and an advocate of regulations aimed at reining in bank trading, said that in early 2012 his allies' "backs were against the wall." "Then the London whale blew all of that out of the water," he said. Mortgages Fueled Hedge Funds To 13.9 Percent Gain (NYP) Hedge funds that invest in mortgage-backed securities gained 13.9 percent through November to make them the industry’s best-performing strategy, according to the Absolute Return index. Top players that did even better included Metacapital Management, Pine River, Axonic Capital, and Greg Lippman's LibreMax Capital. High-Speed Traders Race to Fend Off Regulators (WSJ) Defenders say high-frequency trading keeps markets lubricated with a constant supply of buy and sell orders that enables all participants to trade more efficiently and get better pricing. High-speed traders, supporters add, have helped foster competition among exchanges and other trading venues, lowering commission-based fees for small investors and helping bring down overall costs for mutual-fund managers. Another benefit some cite: Technology innovations spurred by high-speed traders serve to connect more investors to more trading venues, broadening their options in the markets. Critics, for their part, worry that the traders' order torrent makes markets more opaque, less stable and ultimately less fair. Will 'Fiscal Clif' Accelerate Millionaire Deaths? (NetNet) John Carney: "...it at least seems likely that some deaths that might otherwise have occurred shortly after January 1 will occur shortly before." Man gets DUI after driving on AA co-founder's lawn (AP) Vermont State Police say a man faces a drunken driving charge after driving onto the lawn of a historic home once owned by the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Police say 55-year-old Donald Blood III of Marlborough, Mass., was ordered to appear in court in Bennington on Jan. 14. Police say Blood thought he was driving into a parking lot, but actually it was the lawn of the Wilson House, built in 1852 in Dorset, the birthplace of AA co-founder Bill Wilson. The Wilson House's website describes it as a "place of sanctuary where people can come to give thanks to God for their new lives." It still hosts several AA meetings each week. Programming Note< : We’re on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule this week (opening news roundups and limited updates whenever the urge to reach out and touch you moves us). We still want to hear from you, though, so if anything happens that you think might tickle our fancy, do not hesitate to let us know.

Opening Bell: 01.23.13

Greece Charges Statisticians Over Size of Deficit (FT) Greece has brought criminal charges against the official responsible for measuring the country's debt, thereby calling into question the validity of its 172 billion euros second bailout by the EU and International Monetary Fund. Andreas Georgiou, head of the independent statistical agency Elstat, and two senior officials are accused of undermining the country's "national interests" by inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure used as the benchmark for successive austerity packages. The three statistical experts face criminal charges of making false statements and corrupt practices, a judicial official said, adding that if found guilty they could serve prison terms of five to 10 years. They have denied any wrongdoing. Spain's Recession Deepens (WSJ) Spain's central bank said a recession in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy deepened slightly in the final quarter of last year, but it said austerity cuts are bringing the country's runaway budget deficit under control. Obama-Bashing Swapped for Pragmatism at Davos (Bloomberg) “We have to move on in our society,” Blackstone found Stephen Schwarzman said today in an interview in Davos with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker. “I like President Obama as a person, and he’s well- intentioned.” Schwarzman, 65, warned in Davos in 2010 that banks could restrict lending because “their entire world is being shaken and they’re being attacked personally.” Later that year, at a nonprofit group meeting, he likened Obama’s tax proposals to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Third Point LLC CEO Daniel Loeb, who in 2010 compared Wall Street’s Obama supporters to “battered wives,” will help lead a Jan. 25 Davos dinner discussion, “Can Capitalism Evolve?” Schwarzman apologized in 2010 for his comparison of Obama’s effort to double taxes on private-equity income to the invasion of Poland. He said the analogy was inappropriate and that the administration’s need to work with business “is still of very serious concern.” JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon Apologizes, Attacks (WSJ) James Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase was prepared in Davos to apologize for the more than $6 billion of trading losses racked up by the so-called London Whale, but he certainly wasn’t prepared to abase himself...Min Zhu, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, reeled off a string of statistics to show that the industry certainly hadn’t cleaned up its act since the crisis, and Paul Singer, principal of hedge fund Elliott Associates, was also keen to lambaste big banks, including Mr. Dimon’s. The two had some testy exchanges and the body language indicated that Messrs. Singer and Dimon have exchanged fire quite a few times previously. Still, Mr. Dimon gave us good as he got. He kicked off with repeating his apology to shareholders for the London Whale trading losses, which led to his own bonus being slashed, saying, “If you’re a shareholder of mine, I apologize deeply.” Having offered this apology he then went on the offense. He pointed out that his bank lent money to a whole host of worthy organizations such as schools, hospitals, governments, and Italian and Spanish corporates and governments. And he also had some snappy comebacks. Elliott’s Singer said that the global banks are “too big, too leveraged, too opaque,” which left Mr. Dimon with an easy retort about how could a hedge fund possibly criticize a bank about being opaque? “Our [securities filing] 10K is 400 pages long,” Mr. Dimon said. “What would you like to know?” Geithner Exit Next Friday (AFP) US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who steered the administration of President Obama through the financial crisis, will step down from his post Friday, a source told Agence France Presse yesterday. Golfer Mickelson recants tax rant (NYP) Mickelson — who hinted he might move from his home state of California to escape higher taxes — said he regretted his public rant on the issue after setting off a political firestorm. “Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public,” according to a statement from Mickelson, who plans to elaborate today at the Farmers Insurance Open. “I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.” Senator Lautenberg Suggests Spanking In Store For Mayor Cory Booker (CI via DI) "I have four children, I love each one of them. I can't tell you that one of them wasn't occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK," Lautenberg said with a smile in his first public comments since Booker announced he was considering a run for Senate. Banker's Latest Bet: Teamwork on Bonds (WSJ) Texas banking tycoon Andrew Beal is known for making unconventional moves, including gambling on high-stakes poker and a self-financed plan to launch rockets into space. His latest gambit: an attempt to wring money from giant banks by banding together aggrieved bondholders. Mr. Beal's CXA Corp. ran a pair of advertisements late last year, one appearing in The Wall Street Journal. The ads listed an alphabet soup of residential mortgage-backed securities held by CXA and asked those with positions in the same securities to join the company in investigating possible infractions by banks that sold the debt. If the groups can prove the mortgages that underlie the bonds were approved through shoddy underwriting, they could be entitled to compensation—CXA's payday alone could be tens of millions of dollars. Firms Keep Stockpiles Of 'Foreign' Cash In US (WSJ) Some companies, including Internet giant Google, software maker Microsoft, and data-storage specialist EMC Corp, keep more than three-quarters of the cash owned by their foreign subsidiaries at U.S. banks, held in U.S. dollars or parked in U.S. government and corporate securities, according to people familiar with the companies' cash positions. In the eyes of the law, the Internal Revenue Service and company executives, however, this money is overseas. As long as it doesn't flow back to the U.S. parent company, the U.S. doesn't tax it. And as long as it sits in U.S. bank accounts or in U.S. Treasurys, it is safer than if it were plowed into potentially risky foreign investments. SEC Reins In Ratings Firm (WSJ) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission barred Egan-Jones Ratings Co. from issuing ratings on certain bonds, an unprecedented step by the regulator and a setback for a small credit-rating firm with a history of courting controversy. The SEC said Tuesday that Egan-Jones couldn't officially rate bonds issued by countries, U.S. states and local governments, or securities backed by assets such as mortgages, for at least the next 18 months. The ban was part of an agreement the SEC reached with Egan-Jones and its president, Sean Egan, to settle charges that they filed inaccurate documents with the regulator in 2008. The SEC alleged that Egan-Jones misled investors about its expertise, and that Mr. Egan caused the firm to violate conflict-of-interest provisions. Lindenhurst dentist busted after reporting to work reeking of booze and drilling teeth while allegedly drunk (NYDN) Dr. Robert Garelick was hauled out of his Lindenhurst office in handcuffs Monday after his dental hygienist smelled booze on his breath and caught him administering Novocain to the wrong side of a patient’s mouth. “I observed Dr. Garelick looking for cavities in the right side of the patient’s mouth, but the cavities were in the left side,” hygienist Kimberly Curtis told police in a written statement. “I pointed this out to the doctor and that’s when he ordered more Novocain for the patient,” Curtis told cops. “So now, he basically numbed the whole patient’s mouth.” After noticing Garelick’s wobbly behavior Monday, Curtis texted co-worker Dina Fara, who called 911. Curtis said she sent the message after Garelick used a drill to treat another patient who had a chipped tooth. “He was filing the tooth down,” Curtis said. “When you’re using that drill, you have to be very careful and have a steady hand.” She said that just before Garelick treated the chipped tooth, he slipped into his office. “I noticed that he was drinking from a white and purple squeeze bottle,” Curtis said. “At first I didn’t think anything was wrong,” Curtis said. “But right after, he took a drink from that bottle, he got up and walked past me. When he did this I smelled a strong odor of alcohol.” The dentist initially claimed he only had a couple of beers with pizza during lunch Monday, according to Suffolk County cops. But Garelick, who was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment, later confessed to his drunken dentistry while being taken to a police precinct in the back of squad car. “I never had any beers with my pizza. I’ve been sipping at that bottle all along today,” he told police, referring to his squeeze bottle filled with vodka, according to a criminal complaint.

Opening Bell: 07.30.12

New York Lender Files Libor Suit (WSJ) Berkshire Bank, with 11 branches in New York and New Jersey and about $881 million in assets, claims in a proposed class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York that "tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars" of loans made or sold in the state were affected by rigging the London interbank offered rate. Many adjustable-rate commercial and home loans are pegged to Libor, meaning that "misrepresentation…on the date on which a loan resets will generally reduce the amount of interest that a lender receives by an equivalent amount," the bank alleges..."Libor could well be the asbestos claims of this century," said James Cox, a law professor at Duke University in Durham, N.C. "Misreporting an index used around the world" has "ginormous" ramifications, he added. HSBC Hit By Provisions (WSJ) HSBC said Monday that net profit fell in the first half, as the bank was forced to put aside $2 billion to cover the fallout of a U.S. money-laundering probe and the improper selling of financial products. The series of provisions at the bank pushed up underlying costs by $1.9 billion and ate into the lender's bottom line, cutting net profit attributable to ordinary shareholders in the first six months by 9% to $8.15 billion. HSBC Apologizes For Compliance Failures (Bloomberg) “Regulatory and compliance events in the first six months of the year overshadowed financial performance,” Chairman Douglas Flint said in a statement today. “HSBC has made mistakes in the past, and for them I am very sorry.” Big Banks Are Getting Tough With Hedge-Fund Clients (Reuters) Major banks face growing pressure to extract more money from, or even sever ties with, unprofitable hedge-fund clients as they cut costs in the face of tough trading conditions and try to refocus on the biggest managers. Industry insiders say prime brokers are sifting through their client lists, in some cases demanding higher fees on trading or a greater share of a fund's business, and sometimes telling funds to look elsewhere. Investors eye wine, art funds for hedging (NYP) Rising fears that traditional investing has become a lose-lose proposition have a growing number of wealthy folks seeing dollar signs in niche funds that invest in art, wine, musical instruments and even classic cars. They’re known as “collectible” funds or “treasure” funds, and while they come with plenty of skeptics and potential pitfalls, they’re also promising returns reminiscent of the days before the Great Recession. Sergio Esposito, founder of Union Square’s wine shop Italian Wine Merchants, said the wine fund he helped start in 2010, The Bottled Asset Fund, has been doing so well he hopes to launch another next year. After selling its first batches of wine this year, the $8.2 million fund is now seeing profits upward of 30 percent, he said. Gymnast’s parents perform their own routine at London 2012 (The Score) Lynn and Rick Raisman have been watching their daughter Aly work towards the Olympics since they first brought her to a gym when she was two two years old. It’s no wonder then that watching her compete for an Olympic medal is a nail biting experience. Here they are with their eyes trained on Aly’s uneven bars routine in London. Her dad just about makes it through unscathed: Fed Weighs Cutting Interest On Banks’ Reserves After ECB Move (Bloomberg) “They’re reconsidering it,” said Ward McCarthy, a former Richmond Fed economist. A July 5 decision by the European Central Bank to cut its deposit rate to zero is prompting renewed interest in the strategy, said McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies & Co. McCarthy said it’s unlikely the Fed will reduce the rate at a two-day meeting that starts tomorrow. Used Lamborghinis Linger On H.K. Lots Amid China Lull (Bloomberg) Dealers of such second-hand cars say job cuts and the worsening global economic outlook are creating uncertainty among the finance-industry and expatriate professionals who make up the bulk of their buyers. Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Deutsche Bank are among firms with Asian headquarters in Hong Kong that are cutting jobs worldwide. “The more expensive the car, the more dry the business,” said Tommy Siu at the Causeway Bay showroom of Vin’s Motors Co., the used-car dealership he founded two decades ago. Sales of ultra-luxury cars have halved in the past two or three months, he said. “A lot of bankers don’t want to spend too much money for a car now. At this moment, they don’t know if they’ll have a big bonus.” “In the car market, it’s not buying like watches,” said Booz & Co.’s Russo. “Here you are getting a true look at a category of product bought by Hong Kong buyers. It’s a pulse check on how Hong Kong residents view the stability of the financial system.” Sarbanes-Oxley's Jail-Time Threat Hasn't Been Applied in Crisis-Related Cases (WSJ) After the financial crisis, the certification rules seemed like a strong weapon against executives suspected of misleading investors. But prosecutors haven't brought any criminal cases for false certification related to the crisis. Regulators have brought only a handful of crisis-related civil allegations in that area...For example: Richard Fuld, former CEO of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. A bankruptcy examiner's report on Lehman's 2008 collapse said there was enough evidence to support claims that Mr. Fuld failed to ensure the firm's quarterly reports were accurate, because he knew or should have known Lehman had cut its balance sheet through questionable transactions. But the government hasn't charged Mr. Fuld with false certification or other wrongdoing. His attorney couldn't be reached for comment. There also haven't been any charges against James Cayne, Bear Stearns Cos.' ex-CEO, which spiraled into a liquidity crisis that led to a 2008 forced sale to J.P. Morgan. Mr. Cayne and other Bear executives recently agreed to a $275 million settlement of shareholder litigation accusing them of misleading investors about the firm's finances—including allegations that Mr. Cayne falsely certified Bear's financial reports. Fla. Man Who Lost Hand Charged With Feeding Gator (AP) A Florida airboat captain whose hand was bitten off by a 9-foot alligator faces charges of feeding of the animal. Collier County Jail records show 63-year-old Wallace Weatherholt was charged Friday with unlawful feeding of an alligator and later posted $1,000 bond. His next court date is Aug. 22. Weatherholt was attacked on June 12th as he was giving an Indiana family a tour of the Everglades. The family said Weatherholt hung a fish over the side of the boat and had his hand at the water's surface when the alligator attacked. Wildlife officers tracked and euthanized the gator. Weatherholt's hand was found but could not be reattached. A criminal investigation followed. Feeding alligators is a second-degree misdemeanor.

Opening Bell: 02.07.13

Credit Suisse Returns To Profit (WSJ) In the fourth quarter, Credit Suisse's net profit was 397 million francs, compared with a net loss of 637 million francs a year earlier when restructuring charges weighed on earnings. Revenue, which includes interest income, fees and trading proceeds, rose 29% to 5.8 billion francs. Analysts had expected a profit of 563 million francs and revenue of 6.14 billion francs. State Lawsuits Could Add To S&P Exposure (WSJ) On Tuesday, the Justice Department sued S&P for allegedly causing some banks and credit unions to lose $5 billion after relying on the company's ratings of mortgage-linked securities. However, the $5 billion claim, which S&P has dismissed as "meritless," is only part of the legal battle being fought by the world's largest credit-ratings firm by number of deals rated. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have followed in the Justice Department's footsteps, filing separate lawsuits against S&P on Tuesday. The California attorney general alone is suing S&P for about $4 billion to recover funds for two of the country's largest public pension funds, according to its lawsuit. Other states, such as Colorado and Arkansas, are demanding S&P give back the revenue it earned on precrisis ratings of hundreds of securities. State prosecutors allege S&P presented its ratings as based on objective and independent analysis but actually were inflated to cater to the banks that helped arrange and sell the securities. S&P Hires Top Defense Attorney for $5 Billion Lawsuit (Reuters) Standard and Poor's has hired John Keker, one of the country's top white-collar defense attorneys, to help fight the $5 billion lawsuit brought by the U.S. government this week. Keker, who is based in San Francisco and has represented everyone from cyclist Lance Armstrong to Enron's Andrew Fastow, was hired at the recommendation of Floyd Abrams, a prominent New York attorney who also represents the ratings firm. RBS Settles Rate Charges (WSJ) CFTC enforcement chief David Meister said Wednesday that the trading floor was "laden with conflicts of interest," where RBS traders "seized the opportunity to ask colleagues sitting in the next chair for false rate submissions." From mid-2006 to the end of 2010, traders at RBS tried hundreds of times to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, sometimes succeeding, said U.S. and U.K. regulators as they announced a $612 million settlement with the British bank. ‘Historic Winter Storm’ Moving Toward U.S. Northeast (Bloomberg) A “potential historic winter storm” and blizzard may dump 2 feet of snow on Boston and eastern Massachusetts, potentially causing power outages and leaving 10 inches in New York City. Eighteen to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) of snow may fall in Boston, and the city has an 85 percent chance of receiving at least 12 inches from the storm that is expected to arrive in two days, according to the latest forecast from National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts, published at at 4:25 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. “Heavy snow and gusty winds will bring the potential for blizzard conditions. The worst of the storm will be Friday night into the morning,” the weather service said. The storm arrives on almost the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978, which killed 99 people, destroyed 2,000 homes, drove 10,000 residents into shelters and paralyzed eastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island for a week, according to the weather service. Ireland Moves Toward Debt Deal (WSJ) Under Ireland's new proposal, the government will provide a long-term bond to the Irish central bank that replaces the note, the Irish finance ministry said. IBRC will be liquidated and its remaining commercial property assets will be dispatched to Ireland's so-called bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency. Mr. Noonan told lawmakers early Thursday that there was still "no deal," but he needed to announce new powers to liquidate IBRC—the first step toward potentially striking such a debt agreement—to protect the country from unspecified legal challenges. Man Claims IRS Agent Coerced Him Into Sex (CBS) An Oregon man is suing the U.S. Government and a female IRS agent he alleges pressured him into sex, by threatening a tax penalty. Vincent Burroughs, of Fall Creek, Ore., says the harassing relationship began in August of 2011 when Dora Abrahamson, an agent with the Internal Revenue Service, called him and said he would be audited, CBS affiliate KVAL reports. Burroughs says he didn't know Abrahamson, and that he hadn't met her before those calls - nor had he heard that he was being audited by the IRS. "She was sending me texts that she wanted to come out, give me massages because she needed to help me relax," Burroughs said in a phone interview with KVAL News. Over the next two months, Burroughs alleges that Abrahamson sent him several flirtatious text messages - offering to give massages, asking to meet him, and sending racy photos of herself to his cell phone. "She said she knew more than my mother knew about me," said Burroughs. In the lawsuit, Burroughs says in September 2011 Abrahamson came to his home wearing provocative attire. "Next thing I know, she's at my gate, honking...so I opened my gate, she came into my property dressed exactly like [when] she texted me," Burroughs said. The lawsuit states: "She said that she could impose no penalty, or a 40% penalty, and that if he would give her what she wanted, she would give him what she needed." E-Mails Imply JPMorgan Knew Some Mortgage Deals Were Bad (NYT) When an outside analysis uncovered serious flaws with thousands of home loans, JPMorgan Chase executives found an easy fix. Rather than disclosing the full extent of problems like fraudulent home appraisals and overextended borrowers, the bank adjusted the critical reviews,according to documents filed early Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. As a result, the mortgages, which JPMorgan bundled into complex securities, appeared healthier, making the deals more appealing to investors. The trove of internal e-mails and employee interviews, filed as part of a lawsuit by one of the investors in the securities, offers a fresh glimpse into Wall Street's mortgage machine, which churned out billions of dollars of securities that later imploded. The documents reveal that JPMorgan, as well as two firms the bank acquired during the credit crisis, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, flouted quality controls and ignored problems, sometimes hiding them entirely, in a quest for profit. Harvard’s Gopinath Helps France Beat Euro Straitjacket (Bloomberg) When French President Francois Hollande unveiled a plan in November for a business tax credit and higher sales taxes as a way to revive the economy, he was implementing an idea championed by economist Gita Gopinath. Gopinath, 41, a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has pushed for tax intervention as a way forward for euro-area countries that cannot devalue their exchange rates. “Fiscal devaluation” is helping France turn the corner during a period of extreme budget constraints, former Airbus SAS chief Louis Gallois said in a business- competitiveness report Hollande commissioned. Gopinath’s support for the theory took shape through her years teaching at Harvard and the University of Chicago and particularly as a Ph.D. student at Princeton University under the guidance of Kenneth Rogoff, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve. While her earlier work on current accounts and balance of payments garnered praise, it is her recent focus on the 17 euro nations that has national leaders paying action. John Thomas Financial Said To Draw Regulatory Probe (NYP) Wall Street brokerage firm John Thomas Financial, owned by flamboyant founder and CEO Tommy Belesis — who gained more than 15 minutes of fame from his role in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — is being probed by the brokerage industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI, The Post has learned. Agents from the FBI’s New York office have been knocking on doors of people associated with the firm, asking questions about JTF’s business practices, including cold calling by brokers and Belesis’ overseas accounts, sources told The Post. Fewer Workers Filed Claims for U.S. Jobless Benefits Last Week (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits dropped 5,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the median of 53 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Big Mac Prices Show Which Euro Zone States Best at Belt-Tightening (Reuter) Economist Guntram Wolff took the data and found that the price rise in Greece, Portugal and Spain has been less than the euro zone average, while in Ireland the price actually fell. These are the main countries undergoing deep economic reform due to the debt crisis. This contrasts with price rises above the euro zone burger average in Germany. Wolff concludes from this that economic adjustment is working. For example, In Ireland, which has made spending cuts after receiving international aid, the burger price has fallen from 3.80 euros to less than 3.50 euros. There is one notable exception, however. Heavily-indebted Italy is the most expensive country in the euro area to buy a Big Mac - 3.85 euros - while it costs just 3.64 euros in Germany. PETA: Naked chicken corpses aren't sexy (CM) The American founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, president Ingrid Newkirk, criticised a newspaper for running a picture of a raw chicken. "We don't want to see any chickens on display, but instead want them to live natural, happy lives with their families. Sexily displaying the corpse of a chicken who has been bred to grow so big, so quickly, that many collapse under their own weight, is just additionally offensive."

Opening Bell: 12.18.12

Dozens Likely Implicated In UBS Libor Deal (FT) bout three dozen bankers and senior managers will be implicated in the alleged rigging of Libor interest rates when UBS settles with global regulators later this week, according to people familiar with the matter. UBS is close to finalizing a deal with UK, US and Swiss authorities in which the bank will pay close to $1.5 billion and its Japanese securities subsidiary will plead guilty to a US criminal offence. Terms of the guilty plea were still being negotiated, one person familiar with the matter said on Monday, adding that the bank will not lose its ability to conduct business in Japan...Not all of the three dozen individuals will face criminal or civil charges and the level of alleged misconduct varies among them. While it also is not clear how many bankers will be criminally charged, people familiar with the investigation said the settlement documents will document an intercontinental scheme to manipulate the Yen-Libor interest rate over several years involving desks from Tokyo to London. Cerberus Seeks Sale of Gun Maker Freedom Group (WSJ) Private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP said it is seeking to sell the company that manufactures a gun used in last week's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. "We have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group…We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so," Cerberus said in a statement Tuesday. Cliff Talks Narrow (WSJ) President Barack Obama backed away from his long-standing call for raising tax rates on households making more than $250,000 a year, a development that inches the White House and congressional Republicans closer to a budget deal. Mr. Obama's move, a counter to Republicans' recent proposal to raise tax rates on income over $1 million, further narrows the differences between the two sides. During a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) Monday the president proposed allowing Bush-era tax rates to expire for households making more than $400,000 in annual income, people familiar with the meeting said. Poland Finds It's Not Immune To Euro Crisis (NYT) During much of the region’s debt crisis so far, Poland has counted itself fortunate that the troubles began before the country had joined the euro currency union. By being part of the E.U.’s common market, but not bound by euro strictures, Poland has been one of the Continent’s rare economic good-news stories. But the deceleration in Polish growth, which has prompted the central bank to begin a series of interest rate cuts to stimulate the economy, has underscored the country’s exposure to slumping euro zone consumer markets. Hedge Fund Managers Convicted of Insider-Trading Scheme (Bloomberg) Level Global Investors LP co-founder Anthony Chiasson and former Diamondback Capital Management LLC portfolio manager Todd Newman were convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy for an insider-trading scheme that reaped more than $72 million. After deliberating a little more than two days, a federal jury in New York found both men guilty of conspiracy to commit securities fraud for a scheme to trade on Dell Inc. (DELL) and Nvidia Corp. (NVDA) using illicit tips. The panel found Chiasson, 39, guilty of five counts of securities fraud, earning Level Global $68.5 million on inside tips trading on the two technology company stocks. Newman, 48, was convicted of four counts of securities fraud related to trades on inside information that earned his fund about $3.8 million. “We had all the evidence we needed,” said Felicia Rivera, a juror from Westchester County near New York City, said after court. Credit unions sue JPM for $3.6B (NYP) The nation’s credit-union watchdog sued JPMorgan for a second time yesterday over $3.6 billion of Bear Stearns mortgage bonds that imploded in the wake of the financial crisis. The suit brought by the National Credit Union Administration accuses Bear Stearns, the failed bank acquired by JPMorgan in 2008, of peddling toxic securities to four credit unions that later collapsed. The same government agency sued JPMorgan last year over $1.4 billion in mortgage-backed securities that led to losses for credit unions. That suit is still pending. In the latest complaint, the credit union regulator said Bear Stearns conspired with at least 16 outfits that cranked out toxic mortgages and securities sold to unsuspecting buyers. Those included notorious subprime mortgage outfits such as Countrywide Financial, New Century and People’s Choice Home Loans. Man wears 70 items of clothing at airport to avoid baggage charge (DS) A man took to putting on 70 items of clothing to avoid an extra baggage charge at an airport. The unidentified passenger turned up at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China, described as looking like a 'sumo wrestler'. According to Guangzhou Daily, the man's luggage exceeded the weight limit. He did not want to pay the extra baggage costs, and thus took out and wore more than 60 shirts and nine pairs of jeans. Wanting to board a flight to Nairobi, Kenya, he was stopped by the metal detector and had to undergo a full body search. AIG Raises $6.45 Billion as AIA Priced in Top Half of Range (Bloomberg) AIG sold 1.65 billion shares at HK$30.30 each, AIA said in a statement today. The shares were offered at HK$29.65 to HK$30.65 each. AIA fell 3.3 percent to close at HK$30.60 in Hong Kong, the most since July 23. It was the biggest decliner and most actively traded stock by both volume and value in the city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index (HSI) with HK$56.6 billion ($7.3 billion) worth of shares changing hands today. Probe Sparks Split On Trades (WSJ) A regulatory investigation into whether stock exchanges have given unfair advantages to high-speed traders has sparked complaints against the exchanges, fueling a broader debate about how the market operates and is regulated. The Investment Company Institute, trade group for mutual funds, complained in a recent letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission that U.S. stock exchanges "facilitate strategies" for rapid-fire trading firms "that can lead to disorderly markets or that can benefit market participants at the expense of long-term investors." Buybacks Rule The Day (WSJ) American companies bought back $274 billion more shares than they issued in the year through September, according to Ed Yardeni, president of investment advisory firm Yardeni Research. And the spending spree looks set to continue, a sign that companies have the cash to put to work but don't yet see an economic case for using it to expand their businesses or create jobs. Dog swallows a foot of Christmas lights (Mirror) Charlie, a seven-year-old crossbreed dog from Southampton, was saved by surgeons from veterinary charity PDSA after wolfing down his family's Christmas lights recently. And the dog has a track record for getting his paws, and teeth, on household objects, having once eaten his owner Sharon Fay's scarf. Ms Fay, who aptly refers to her dog as the "light of her life", became concerned when she noticed bits of wire sticking out of Charlie's faeces in the garden. The 45-year-old said: "I hadn't even noticed that the lights had been chewed at this stage but it quickly became clear what had happened. "Back in March he ate one of my scarves and needed an operation to remove it, but I thought it was just a one-off incident as he hadn't shown any signs that he was going to be a repeat offender. I've had dogs all my life and have never known a dog act like this before." An X-ray immediately cast a light on Charlie's problem - the tangled remains of the decorations clearly showed up in his stomach and would have proved fatal if they were not removed. Vets rushed Charlie to the operating table and removed the Christmas decorations, also finding a shoelace.

Opening Bell: 10.11.12

Fed Governor: Put Cap On Big Financial Firms (WSJ) In a Philadelphia speech, Fed governor Daniel Tarullo recommended curbing banks' growth by putting a limit on their nondeposit liabilities, which are sources of funding for operations that go beyond consumer deposits. The idea takes direct aim at the biggest U.S. banks, including J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup, all of which rely heavily on such funding. Firms outside of this tier make much greater use of regular deposits. With Tapes, Authorities Build Criminal Case Over JPMorgan Loss (Dealbook) Federal authorities are using taped phone conversations to build criminal cases related to the multibillion-dollar trading loss at JPMorgan Chase, focusing on calls in which employees openly discussed how to value the troubled bets in a favorable way. Investigators are looking into the actions of four people who previously worked for the team based in London responsible for the $6 billion loss, according to officials briefed on the case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation could make some arrests in the next several months, said one person who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry was ongoing. The phone recordings, which were turned over to authorities by JPMorgan, have helped focus the investigation, the officials said. Authorities are poring over thousands of conversations, in English and French. They are also relying on notes that employees took during staff meetings, instant messages circulated among traders and e-mails sent within the group. Cyber Slips Boost Facebook's Ad Clicks (NYP) Facebook is suffering from fat-finger syndrome. That’s the opinion of one influential Wall Street analyst — bolstered by a growing body of research — who believes that some of the company’s recently touted mobile ad performance can be chalked up to accidental or fraudulent clicks. “Fat fingers” — when people click on an ad as they’re trying to click on something else — is an issue across the mobile Web as users try to navigate smaller screens, according to BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield. “People don’t have trouble with a mouse or touch pads,” Greenfield said yesterday. “But on mobile, when you’re gliding through on a touch screen, everything is touchable, and a lot of mistakes are happening.” JPMorgan CFO To Exit Post (WSJ) JPMorgan's chief financial officer is expected to step down over the next two quarters and is likely to move into a different job at the bank, people close to the company say. Douglas Braunstein, 51 years old, has been finance chief at the largest U.S. bank, by assets, since 2010. Before that, the longtime deal maker ran J.P. Morgan's investment-banking operations in North and South America and was heavily involved in the bank's acquisitions of securities firm Bear Stearns Cos. and the failed banking operations of Washington Mutual. Mr. Braunstein's status was diminished as part of an executive shake-up in July. Since then, he has reported to Matt Zames, 41, the company's co-chief operating officer, rather than Chairman and Chief Executive James Dimon. It isn't clear where Mr. Braunstein will decide to go within the bank, but the possibilities include J.P. Morgan's recently combined corporate and investment bank, these people said. He is expected to make his decision over the next quarter or two. Spain Lowers Rating On S&P (WSJ) The ratings company warned Wednesday that Spain's creditworthiness might continue to deteriorate as Madrid struggles to close a yawning budget gap, and said the Spanish government's "hesitation" to request a bailout from the European Union is "potentially raising the downside risks to Spain's rating." Brazil Cuts Rate for Tenth Straight Time to Bolster Recovery (Reuters) Brazil cut its benchmark interest rate for the tenth straight time to 7.25 percent on Wednesday, injecting extra stimulus into a languid recovery threatened by a worsening global economy. TSA screener accused of intentionally slapping flier's testicles (DJ) "A bulky young TSA agent came over to pat me down," Steven DeForest told the Huffington Post. "He told me to turn around. He was using his command voice, barking orders. I told him that I wasn't comfortable turning away from my luggage, which had already been screened, and wanted to keep it in my sight." According to deForest, the screener knelt down to begin the pat-down procedure before making a shocking move. "As he raised his hands he was looking at me. Then he gave a quick flick and smacked me in one of my testicles," deForest said. The episode left deForest in a state of "humiliation, rage, and frustration," according to the report. DeForest believes the agent slapped his gentials as punishment for refusing to enter the backscatter x-ray machine. "I was deliberately assaulted by someone who knew that he could get away with it," he stated. While the motives of the TSA screener cannot be confirmed, other agents have already admitted to performing invasive pat downs in order to force air travelers to choose the body scanners instead. JPMorgan's Dimon hits back at government over Bear Stearns suit (Bloomberg) During a wide-ranging hour-long discussion that went from the "fiscal cliff" to the impact of regulations, Dimon bristled when a member of the audience asked him if he now regretted participating with the government to rescue Bear Stearns in light of the lawsuit. "We didn't participate with the Federal Reserve, OK?" he said. "Let's get this one exactly right. We were asked to do it. We did it at great risk to ourselves ... Would I have done Bear Stearns again knowing what I know today? It's real close." Dimon went on to recount how he warned a senior regulator at the time of the deal to "please take into consideration when you want to come after us down the road for something that Bear Stearns did, that JPMorgan was asked to do this by the federal government." He added that JPMorgan, which will report its third-quarter earnings on Friday, will come out fine in the end. But if he is ever put in a similar position again, he said he "wouldn't do it." "I'm a big boy. I'll survive," he said. "But I think the government should think twice before they punish business every single time things go wrong." Australians World’s Wealthiest on Housing, Credit Suisse Says (Bloomberg) Australians have the world’s highest median worth and the Asia-Pacific topped Europe as the largest wealth-holding region, according to Credit Suisse. Australians have a median wealth per adult of $193,653, the Credit Suisse global wealth report showed, the highest of 216 countries surveyed. With plentiful land, sparse population, natural resources and high home prices, Australia’s proportion of individuals with wealth above $100,000 is the most of any country and eight times the world average, the report said. USADA says Lance Armstrong's Postal Service cycling team 'ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen' (NYDN) The report describes an underground network of support staff -- smugglers, dope doctors, drug runners -- who kept Armstrong's illicit program in business. “The evidence is overwhelming that Lance Armstrong did not just use performance-enhancing drugs, he supplied them to his teammates,” USADA says of the embattled cyclist and cancer survivor. “He did not merely go alone to Dr. Michele Ferrari for doping advice, he expected that others would follow,” the report continued, referring to the physician who was banned by USADA for his role in cycling’s steroid scandal. Eleven former Armstrong teammates provided testimony against Armstrong, including respected veteran cyclist George Hincapie, whom Armstrong has described as his "best bro" in the peloton and competed with Armstrong during each of his Tour de France victories. “It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced. He was not just part of the doping culture of his team, he enforced it and re-enforced it. Armstrong’s use of drugs was extensive, and the doping program on his team, designed in large part to benefit Armstrong, was massive and pervasive.”

Opening Bell: 06.04.12

Kerviel’s Refusal To Be SocGen Scapegoat May Harm Appeal Chances (Bloomberg) Jerome Kerviel began his fight today against a 2010 conviction for Societe Generale’s 4.9 billion- euro ($6.2 billion) trading loss, telling a Paris appeals court that the bank knew about his actions. His lawyers said they’ll show judges at the four-week appeal starting today that the bank knew before the 2008 trading loss that he was exceeding his mandate with risky bets and can’t claim to be an innocent victim. “I think that I’m not responsible for this loss,” Kerviel told judge Mireille Filippini at the start of the hearing today in response to a question about why he was appealing. “I always acted with the knowledge” of the bank. Germany Signals Crisis Shift (WSJ) Germany is sending strong signals that it would eventually be willing to lift its objections to ideas such as common euro-zone bonds or mutual support for European banks if other European governments were to agree to transfer further powers to Europe. China Making Contingency Plans for a Greek Exit (Reuters) The Chinese government has called on key agencies, including the central bank, to come up with plans to deal with the potential economic risks of a Greek withdrawal from the euro zone, three sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Monday. The sources said the plans may include implementing measures to keep the yuan currency stable, increasing checks on cross-border capital flows, and stepping up policies to stabilize the domestic economy. Oversight Of JPMorgan Probed (WSJ) A federal agency that oversees J.P. Morgan Chase is taking heat over how much it knew about risk-taking in the part of the bank that suffered more than $2 billion in trading losses. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) asked Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry in a letter Friday for details about the regulator's supervision of trading operations at the largest U.S. bank by assets. Mr. Brown also wants more information about the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's "process for reviewing trading operations" at J.P. Morgan and other big banks. The Senate Banking Committee, which includes Mr. Brown, is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday that will focus on the trading loss. JPMorgan Was Warned About Lax Risk Controls (NYT) A small group of shareholder advocates delivered an urgent message to top executives at JPMorgan Chase more than a year ago: the bank’s risk controls needed to be improved. JPMorgan officials dismissed the warning from the CtW Investment Group, the advocates, who also cautioned bank officials that the company had fallen behind the risk-management practices of its peers. Merrill Losses Were Withheld Before Bank of America Deal (NYT) What Bank of America’s top executives, including its chief executive then, Kenneth D. Lewis, knew about Merrill’s vast mortgage losses and when they knew it emerged in court documents filed Sunday evening in a shareholder lawsuit being heard in Federal District Court in Manhattan: Days before Bank of America shareholders approved the bank’s $50 billion purchase of Merrill Lynch in December 2008, top bank executives were advised that losses at the investment firm would most likely hammer the combined companies’ earnings in the years to come. But shareholders were not told about the looming losses, which would prompt a second taxpayer bailout of $20 billion, leaving them instead to rely on rosier projections from the bank that the deal would make money relatively soon after it was completed. Mets crasher out of jail, says he 'got caught up in the moment' (NYP) Mets fanatic Rafael Diaz said he got such an adrenaline rush from Johan Santana’s no-hitter at Citi Field that “he couldn’t help” himself from running on the field to celebrate. “I was overcome with emotion, just being a die-hard Mets fan,” Diaz said after his release from jail yesterday. “That’s all it was.” Diaz, 32, was charged with trespassing for taking part in the on-field celebration. He spent two nights behind bars before a Queens judge released him and pal John Ries, 25, on their own recognizance. Diaz returned to his Massapequa, LI, home, wearing the same Gary Carter No. 8 jersey he had on Friday night. He hit the showers and donned a fresh Santana jersey before explaining his stunt. After Santana retired the final St. Louis batter on Friday night, Diaz jumped over the railing on from his field-level perch on the first-base side of Citi Field. Moments later, Diaz was rubbing elbows with Santana, R.A. Dickey and Ike Davis in a joyous Mets mob. “I couldn’t help myself,” Diaz said. “I just wanted to be on the mound celebrating the no-hitter.” Diaz paid a stiff penalty, both at home and Citi Field. He missed his 1-year-old son’s birthday party Saturday, and the Mets have banned him for life from their home park. “That’s the bad part,” Diaz said of missing his son’s bash. Feds Eye MFGlobal's False Promise (Bloomberg) Three days before MF Global filed for bankruptcy-court protection, CME Group was assured by the New York company of a $200 million cushion in accounts that ensured customer funds were being kept separate from the firm's own money. But the customer accounts actually were in the red, and the deficit ballooned to more than $900 million on the night of Oct. 30. MF Global tumbled into Chapter 11 on Oct. 31. The bankruptcy trustee trying to recover money for the firm's U.S. customers has estimated that the shortfall now is roughly $1.6 billion. A large chunk of the money is stuck outside the U.S. IPO doubts plague Nasdaq’s Grief-eld (DJ) Companies in the early stages of going public are raising questions about whether they want to list with Nasdaq...The questions, coming two weeks after Bob Greifeld’s exchange botched the largest, most anticipated initial public offering in a generation – Facebook’s $16 billion coming-out party – are the first indication that Nasdaq’s headaches over the snafu are likely to linger. “There’s no question, this Facebook situation has put on the table the question of Nasdaq’s market structure and its market quality,” one exchange expert said. Madoff kin having trouble finding an apartment (NYP) Andrew Madoff and girlfriend Catherine Hooper have tried to cover up their connection to the Ponzi schemer by making appointments under Hooper’s name. She then shows up alone to view the $20,000-per-month pads, brokers said. Hooper speaks generally, saying the space is for her, her fiancé and their children, the sources said. But once the brokers explain who Hooper is to the landlord, the couple is immediately rejected, the sources added. “My owners would never, ever rent to him,” said a broker. “They will go through a lot of rejections.” China Muzzles Online Talk of Tiananmen Anniversary (WSJ) China's Internet monitors have unleashed a broad clampdown on online discussion of the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, restricting even discussion of the nation's main stock market when it fell by a number that hinted at the sensitive date. Officials minding China's popular Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo beginning this weekend began blocking a number of terms that could refer to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, an incident often referred to as June 4 or 64 in the Chinese-speaking world. Under the crackdown the government ordered troops to fire on unarmed demonstrators, likely killings hundreds. Dennis Gartman: 100% Chance Of Further Fed Easing (CNBC) Gartman believes a third round of quantitative easing could come as early as the Fed’s next meeting on June 19-20, or at the following meeting on July 31-Aug. 1. The central bank will want to ease as “far ahead” of the U.S. presidential election in November as possible, so it doesn't come off as being "politically amenable" to the current administration, he noted. Dutch artist turns dead cat into remote-controlled helicopter, dubbed ‘Orvillecopter’ (NYDN) A Dutch artist, upset over losing his beloved pet, Orville, had the animal stuffed and transformed its body into a remote-controlled helicopter. The “half cat, half machine” piece of art was dubbed the “Orvillecopter.” The cat, who was killed when it was hit by a car, was named after famed American aviator Orville Wright. “After a period of mourning, he received his propellers posthumously,” Jansen said. A video posted to YouTube shows the flying feline slowly hover several feet in the air in a park, it's body permanantely spread eagle with propellors on its front paws. Artist Bart Jansen teamed up with radio control helicopter expert Arjen Beltman after having a taxidermist preserve the pussy cat.