Opening Bell: 6.23.16

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit; Chanos thinks SolarCity deal stinks; Mac ’n Cheetos; NASA engineer builds world’s largest nerf gun; and more.
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Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Effects of ‘Brexit’ Vote to Span Markets, Politics (WSJ)
The ramifications of the U.K.’s referendum Thursday on European Union membership will spill through Britain’s politics, Europe’s brittle economy and the world’s restive financial markets. A frenzy of recent polls has ping-ponged a tiny lead between the Remain and Leave camps—two points here, three points there, a point here. The last volley of polls Wednesday gave a mixed verdict—some for Leave but one with an eight-point edge for Remain. Betting markets, bookies and traders still lean toward Remain...The Leave camp believes an exit would benefit Britain in the long term. But investors, economists and analysts say in the short term it would take the world’s stocks, bonds and currencies—especially the British pound—on a wild ride. They are braced for changes to the price of gold, to the Swiss franc, to Japanese monetary policy.

Some GOP Business Leaders Are Backing Clinton (WSJ)
More than 50 business executives, including several longtime Republicans, will endorse Hillary Clinton for president on Thursday as her campaign seeks to capitalize on discomfort with Republican Donald Trump.
They include Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president at AT&T Inc., and Dan Akerson, who held top positions at General Motors Co. and Nextel Communications Inc...The list of business leaders backing her includes several who have supported Democrats in the past, including Eric Schmidt of Alphabet Inc., Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook Inc., and Warren Buffett of Berkshire-Hathaway, Inc. Others endorsing the former secretary of state include Hollywood-turned-internet executive Barry Diller of IAC/InterActiveCorp; Hollywood executive Peter Chernin, of The Chernin Group; Wendell Weeks of Corning Inc.; Reed Hastings of Netflix Inc.; and Rob Marcus of Time Warner Inc.

Twilio IPO Signals Optimism for Tech (WSJ)
Twilio Inc. raised more than it expected in its initial public offering, an optimistic sign for the dozens of other technology companies that have been valued at more than $1 billion in private fundraising. The San Francisco company’s IPO priced at $15 each, raising $150 million by selling 10 million shares, the company said in a release late Wednesday. The offering comes during a tough patch for younger, private technology companies as some of their valuations in private fundraising rounds have fallen in recent months. It also comes as U.S.-listed IPOs are on track for their worst year since the financial crisis.

Tesla Deal Worries Investors (WSJ)
Tesla shares plunged by more than 10% on Wednesday, a day after it proposed an all-stock deal valuing the solar-power company at up to $2.8 billion. Both firms are unprofitable, and SolarCity lost more than 60% of its value over the past 12 months. Its shares closed 3.3% higher. “We are not happy with the offer,” said Sam Korus, an analyst with ARK Investment Management LLC, which holds 75,000 shares of Tesla in three different funds and has often been bullish on the company. He said his firm would likely vote against the offer.

Chanos: ‘Brazen' SolarCity deal is ‘corporate governance at its worst’ (CNBC)
High-profile investment manager Jim Chanos blasted Tesla Motors' proposed acquisition of SolarCity on Wednesday, telling CNBC that the "brazen Tesla bailout of SolarCity" is a "shameful example of corporate governance at its worst." ... "And if you don't want to believe me, consider this: The combined market drop in the value of both companies is more than the equity value of the deal itself — which means that Tesla shareholders think SolarCity shares are essentially worthless," Chanos said. "Finally, it is hard for me to believe that this deal was not being contemplated when Tesla, and Mr. (Elon) Musk himself, sold shares just a few weeks ago."

NASA Engineer Builds World’s Largest Nerf Gun (HP)
Regular Nerf darts are too small for Rober’s ginormous Nerf gun so he makes his own using plungers and pool noodles. The gun is powered by a paintball canister capable of shooting 3,000-pounds-per-square-inch. That’s a little too powerful for Rober’s needs so he’s modified the gun so each blast of air pressure that fills the gun can shoot off five shots before it needs a refill. The darts shoot out of the gun at around 40 mph and can travel nearly 400 feet.

UBS Gives IRS Records on U.S. Citizen’s Account in Singapore (Bloomberg)
UBS Group AG has ended a legal fight with the Internal Revenue Service, agreeing to hand over records on an American client’s account in Singapore as U.S. authorities seek to move beyond Switzerland in their fight against offshore tax evasion. The case involves Ching-Ye Hsiaw, a U.S. citizen living in China who had an account in Singapore from 2001 to 2011. On Feb. 23, the IRS filed a petition asking a federal judge in Miami to force UBS, the largest Swiss bank, to produce account records on Hsiaw. The IRS said it needed the records to determine Hsiaw’s income tax liabilities from 2006 to 2011.

Burger King Jumps Into Snack-Brand Hybrids With Mac ’n Cheetos (Bloomberg)
Burger King, the restaurant chain backed by 3G Capital and Warren Buffett, will begin selling deep-fried sticks of macaroni and cheese encrusted in Cheetos-flavored breading, part of a trend toward blending fast food with well-known snack brands.

Saudi Prince Ends Silicon Valley Tour at Facebook Before UN Trip (Bloomberg)
In the second week of a U.S. trip aimed at improving ties with government officials and drumming up investment, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman met Zuckerberg for the first time. Photos released by the prince’s office showed him wearing jeans and a blazer while touring the Menlo Park, California, campus with Zuckerberg and trying on an Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset.

University administrator wears 'bee beard' to raise money for research center (UPI)
A Washington State University provost allowed thousands of bees to crawl on his face in the shape of a beard to raise awareness about honey bee health. Provost Dan Bernardo and the president of Fungi Perfecti, Paul Stamets, volunteered to wear a "beard" made of bees in hopes of raising funds for a new Honey Bee and Pollinator Research Center at the university. Bernardo remained calm throughout the stunt and told WSU News that he had complete confidence in the staff on hand. "Initially, there's this scratchiness, sort of moving sensation," he said. "It's very noisy, maybe a little nerve-wracking. But I wasn't nervous. We had paramedics and every bee expert within 1,000 miles here, so I figured I was in good hands."

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Opening Bell: 9.29.17

Elon Musk wants to be Rocket Man; Roku IPO goes vertical; the Trump Trade is back; Thomas the Tank Engine is a cruel, repressive nightmare; and more.

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Opening Bell: 6.24.16

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit; Banks pass stress tests; Lindsay Lohan live tweets rant on European Union referendum, attacks 'Brexit' voters; and more.

Opening Bell: 08.20.12

Diamond Censured Over Evidence in Barclays Libor Probe (Bloomberg) Barclays ex-Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond was criticized for giving “unforthcoming and highly selective” evidence by a U.K. parliamentary report that faulted the bank for letting traders rig interest rates. The “candor and frankness” of Diamond’s testimony to lawmakers on July 4 “fell well short of the standard that Parliament expects,” the House of Commons Treasury Committee said in a 122-page report today following its inquiry into the bank’s attempts to manipulate the London interbank offered rate. “The Barclays board has presided over a deeply flawed culture,” the panel of British lawmakers said. “Senior management should have known earlier and acted earlier.” Bob Diamond Hits Bank In Rate-Rigging Row (Telegraph) In a statement Mr Diamond hit back at the report. "I am disappointed by, and strongly disagree with, several statements by the Treasury Select Committee,” Diamond said. Deutsche Bank’s Business With Sanctioned Nations Under Scrutiny (NYT) Federal and state prosecutors are investigating Deutsche Bank and several other global banks over accusations that they funneled billions of dollars through their American branches for Iran, Sudan and other sanctioned nations, according to law enforcement officials with knowledge of the cases. JPMorgan Picks Leader For 'Whale' Probe (WSJ) JPMorgan directors have named Lee Raymond chairman of a board committee investigating the bank's multibillion-dollar trading blunder, said people close to the probe. Some Groupon Investors Give Up (WSJ) Some of the early backers of Groupon, including Silicon Valley veteran Marc Andreessen, are heading for the exits, joining investors who have lost faith in companies that had been expected to drive a new Internet boom. At least four Groupon investors who held stock in the daily-deals company before it went public have sold or significantly pared back their holdings in recent months. Since its initial public offering in November, Groupon has shed more than three-quarters of its stock-market value, or about $10 billion...Mr. Andreessen, who rode the 1990s dot-com frenzy to riches at Netscape Communications Corp., was among the investors who helped fuel Groupon's rapid ascent. His firm, Andreessen Horowitz, was responsible for $40 million of the $950 million investors put into Groupon just months before the company's IPO. Andreessen Horowitz sold its 5.1 million Groupon shares shortly after restrictions on selling the stock expired June 1, according to people with knowledge of the transaction. Facebook Investors Brace For More Shares Coming To Market (Bloomberg) While Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg operates the world’s largest social-networking service, he’s facing investor concerns about how it can generate more revenue from its growing user base. That, plus the end of the first lock-up, drove the shares to half the offering price of $38, wiping out almost $46 billion in market value. Queen's corgis 'attack' Princess Beatrice's terrier Max (Telegraph) They may be among the Queen's favourite subjects but her corgis are in the doghouse after getting into a fight with one of Princess Beatrice's pets. Max, an 11–year–old Norfolk terrier, is said to have been badly injured after a "nasty" encounter at Balmoral castle last week. The Princess's pet nearly lost an ear and suffered several bloody bite injuries that had to be treated by a vet, in the latest in a series of scraps between royal dogs..."The Queen's dog boy was taking the corgis for a walk and they were joined by the Norfolk terriers, which came with Prince Andrew," one insider told a Sunday newspaper. "They were being taken along the long corridor leading to the Tower Door before being let into the grounds for a walk, and they all became overexcited. They began fighting among themselves and unfortunately the dog boy lost control. "The next thing we knew there were horrific yelps and screams...there was blood everywhere." EU Leaders Plan Shuttle Talks To Bolster Greece, Sovereign Bonds (Bloomberg) The sovereign-debt crisis mustn’t become a “bottomless pit” for Germany, even though Europe’s biggest economy would pay the highest price in a breakup of the euro region, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Aug. 18 during his ministry’s open day in Berlin. “There are limits,” he said, as he ruled out another aid program for Greece. Hedge 'A-Listers' Include Ackman, Loeb, Chanos (NYP) Influential adviser Cliffwater LLC — which monitors some 1,500 hedge funds and ranks them with an A, B or C grade — keeps a closely guarded list of 90 or so top-rated funds...Cliffwater advises large pension funds in New Jersey, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, among others, and has become one of the industry’s hottest gatekeepers as more big institutions invest directly in hedge funds rather than through funds of funds...An August copy of Cliffwater’s “500 top-rated A or B” funds shows that the company gives high marks to activist funds such as Ackman’s Pershing Square and also to tail risk funds, which aim to protect against disasters. Tucked inside the protected internal document, which compares five-year historical returns to risk, is Cliffwater’s “Select List,” which appears to be the 95 funds deemed worthy of A ratings. Along with Ackman, Dan Loeb of Third Point, the hedgie who recently rattled Yahoo!, famed short-seller Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates and gold hound James Melcher of Balestra Capital, made the short list as well. Spitzer Defends Wall Street Legacy (FT) Last week it emerged that Goldman Sachs had brought the curtains down on its Hudson Street platform, one of the most high-profile independent research projects started by an investment bank involved in the settlement. Other settlement banks, such as UBS and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, are said to have closed or scaled down their own independent analysis projects. Mr. Spitzer was quick to defend the legacy of the global settlement in an interview with the Financial Times. “I think we accomplished something,” Mr. Spitzer said. “There are a lot of independent research firms out there, some doing well and others not. Goldman has other business models and other priorities.” Shia LaBeouf To Have Sex "For Real" While Filming Scenes For Lars Von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" (Complex) "It is what you think it is. There's a disclaimer at the top of the script that basically says, we're doing [the sex] for real. And anything that is 'illegal' will be shot in blurred images. But other than that, everything is happening," LaBeouf said during an interview.

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Opening Bell: 9.19.18

China does the rope-a-dope; Theresa May still trying to make a Brexit deal; Danske boss takes a powder; Man rubs produce on his butt; and more!

Opening Bell: 08.14.12

Barclays Cheaper Than Peers Fuels Breakup Talk (Bloomberg) The break-up discussion will be one of the first issues facing new chairman David Walker, who will succeed Marcus Agius as chairman of Barclays on Nov. 1. Walker said in an interview with the Telegraph newspaper that “my view is that this should continue to be a universal bank,” according to the Aug. 11 article. Agius has also defended the so-called universal banking model, which combines consumer lending with corporate and investment banking. Paul Ryan And What Wall Street Should Know (Dealbook) While Mr. Ryan may appear to be a friend of business, he doesn’t agree with the industry’s biggest talking point these days, the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. He was a member of the commission and voted it down, arguing that it did not go far enough in overhauling health care entitlements. He later criticized President Obama for not supporting it. That prompted Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council under President Obama, to retort on CNN: “Paul Ryan, talking about walking away from a balanced plan like Bowles-Simpson is, I don’t know, somewhere between laughable and a new definition for chutzpah.” Greece Completes Largest Debt Sale In Two Years (WSJ) Give it up for Greece, everyone: "The Greek Public Debt Management Agency said it sold €4.063 billion ($5.01 billion) of 13-week treasury bills at an auction, which included a 30% noncompetitive tranche. The uniform yield was 4.43%. Most of the funds will go to repay €3.1 billion in bonds held by the ECB that mature Aug. 20. That will ensure that the country avoids a default that would make it impossible for Greek banks to continue borrowing from the ECB, on which they currently depend for their survival." Wilbur Ross: Just Let Greece Go, It's Fine (CNBC) "I've been in favor of Greece going out, frankly both from the Greek point of view and the EU point of view," Ross said. "I think there are enough firewalls being built up, particularly now that (European Central Bank chief) Mario Draghi is acting like the lender of last resort, that I don't think it would be that traumatic anymore. Most of the indebtedness of Greece is official debt, no longer private debt, so you don't have the domino problem." Crocs co-founder George Boedecker blames 'girlfriend' Taylor Swift following arrest for drunk driving in Colorado (NYDN) A witness called Boulder authorities early Saturday evening after seeing Crocs co-founder George Boedecker passed out at the wheel of a Porsche with the engine running, according to the Denver Post. Boedecker was busted on suspicion of driving under the influence and is free on $500 bond. When confronted by cops, the 51-year-old Boedecker said that it was actually the 22-year-old Swift who was driving the car, according to a police report obtained by The Smoking Gun and the Denver Post. According to the report, Boedecker said that his "girlfriend" left the vehicle after they got into a fight. When asked who his girlfriend was, Boedecker told the officer she was a "really (expletive) famous" singer, then asked the officer if he knew who Taylor Swift was. When the officer asked Boedecker where Swift was, Boedecker gestured toward a nearby yard, and “said she was in Nashville,” according to the police report. He also described his girlfriend as “bats--- crazy.” Authorities could not find anyone in the area, and Swift is currently dating Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s 18-year-old son, Conor. Boedecker reeked of booze and was uncooperative with cops, saying “I’m not doing your f------ maneuvers" when asked to take a sobriety test. When asked for his address, Boedecker replied, "I have 17 (expletive) homes," and also told the cops he would have their badges, according to the police report. Knight $440 Million Loss Sealed By New Rules On Canceling Trades (Bloomberg) Knight, whose market-making unit executes 10 percent of U.S. equity volume, lost $440 million on Aug. 1 and its stock has plunged 73 percent after a computer malfunction bombarded the market with unintended orders that exchanges declined to cancel. A decade ago, the firm suffered almost no consequences in a similar breakdown when officials agreed to void trades after Knight mistakenly sold 1 million of its own shares. Peregrine CEO Is Indicted (WSJ) The chief executive of Peregrine Financial Group Inc. was indicted Monday on 31 charges of lying to government regulators regarding the failed brokerage's operations. Russell Wasendorf Sr. faces a maximum sentence of 155 years' imprisonment on the charges and fines of about $7.75 million, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa. Hedge Funds Have $74 Billion As Europe Fire Sale Delayed (Bloomberg) Apollo Global Management, Oaktree Capital Group, Avenue Capital Group, and Davidson Kempner Capital Management are among U.S. firms that have flocked to Europe, setting up offices and raising funds to benefit from the most severe period of distress in the region. The money raised for distressed-debt funds gives the firms about 100 billion euros to spend on deals including leverage, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Facebook Shares Unlocking (WSJ) An avalanche of privately held Facebook shares could begin hitting the market this week—potentially putting further pressure on the company's stock—as rules expire that have kept some early investors from cashing out. Record 17-foot python caught in Everglades (Herald Tribune) Scientists say they've caught the biggest Burmese python ever recorded in Florida. The python weighed in at 164½ pounds and measured 17 feet, 7 inches long. It was pregnant with 87 eggs. The snakes are native to Southeast Asia but have established a population of tens of thousands in the Everglades, where the latest find was recorded Friday. It was euthanized and is being studied at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Opening Bell: 01.07.13

Regulators Give Ground To Banks (WSJ) Global banking regulators watered down a key element of their plan for creating a safer financial system, giving ground to banks that argued the rules were unworkable and financially risky. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a group of the world's top regulators and central bankers, said Sunday that it agreed to relax a rule designed to ensure that big banks are able to weather financial crises without running short of cash. Bowing to two years of intense pressure from the banking industry, the regulators made it easier for banks to meet the rule, known as the "liquidity coverage ratio," and delayed its full implementation until 2019. It is the latest instance of regulators chipping away at their landmark 2010 response to the global financial crisis. The regulators argue that the changes make banking rules much stronger than they were before the crisis. Herbalifers Stay Resolute (WSJ) When hedge-fund manager William Ackman unveiled his 334-slide presentation alleging that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme, it did nothing to shake Joanne Clare. The 38-year-old Staten Island mother of three has been selling the company's weight-loss products and supplements since 2004, when she says they helped her drop from 210 to 160 pounds in four months. She now sells as much as $3,500 a month of Herbalife products to her 30 clients and the two distributors in her "down line." "People have always said it's a pyramid scheme, but it's not," Ms. Clare said, adding that the bulk of her earnings come from sales to clients, not her cut of her recruits' take. Mr. Ackman's declaration that he had bet more than $1 billion against Herbalife caused many investors to flee, sending the stock down 38% in four days in late December. But some of the company's 3.1-million-strong army of distributors were unmoved. Eliot Spitzer Ends His Show On Current TV (NYT) The announcement comes a few days after Al Jazeera said it was acquiring Current TV. Later this year, the Qatar-owned broadcaster plans to turn the channel into an Americanized version of the international news channel Al Jazeera English. Mr. Spitzer said he had a “wonderful time” at Current, but emphasized that his relationship was with Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, Current’s co-founders, not with Al Jazeera. “Moving forward, their mission will be different,” he said — more international newscasts, less liberal talk about the news. Citi's Corbat builds bridges (Reuters) Citigroup Inc's Michael Corbat has been meeting with bank regulators in his first months as CEO, as he looks to bolster relationships and finalize the bank's plan to return capital to shareholders, sources familiar with the matter said. Corbat also expects to name his team of top managers within the next week or so, one of the sources said on Sunday. Corbat is expected to play it safe when Citigroup asks the U.S. Federal Reserve for permission for moves such as buying back shares or increasing dividends, analysts and investors said. His predecessor, Vikram Pandit, lost his job in October in part because the bank's request for returning capital was denied in March. The bank, which is due to submit its plan to the Fed on Monday, has not yet done so, the source said. The third-largest U.S. bank will only seek approval to buy back shares and not raise dividends, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Last year, the bank wanted permission to return more than $8 billion to shareholders over two years, the paper said. For Newly Minted MBAs, A Small Paycheck (WSJ) For graduates with minimal experience—three years or less—median pay was $53,900 in 2012, down 4.6% from 2007-08, according to an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by PayScale.com. Pay fell at 62% of the 186 schools examined. Even for more seasoned grads the trend is similar, says Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale.com. "In general, it seems that M.B.A. pay is either stagnant or falling," she says...It is all a far cry from the late 1980s and early 1990s heyday for M.B.A.s, when some companies would hire 100 or more M.B.A.s. It wasn't uncommon to recruit first, and fill actual jobs later. DOJ pledges to respect Swiss law in tax probe (Reuters) Swiss chief finance diplomat Michael Ambuehl was given a verbal pledge from the U.S. Department of Justice to respect Swiss law when asking for bank client data of potential tax dodgers, a newspaper reported on Sunday. Switzerland is in negotiations with U.S. authorities to find a deal that would end tax probes into at least ten Swiss banks suspected of helping clients dodge taxes, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer. The Alpine country is trying to preserve what is left of its cherished banking secrecy that suffered a severe blow in 2009 when UBS, the first Swiss bank that came under scrutiny in the U.S., was required to disclose client data. Brazilian prison gaurds catch cat that slipped through the gate with escape tools taped to its body (NYDN) Guards at a Brazilian prison nabbed a white cat that slipped through the gate with a cell phone, drills, small saws and other contraband taped to its body. Alagoas prison spokeswoman Cinthya Moreno says the cat was caught New Year’s Eve at the medium-security prison in the city of Arapiraca. The O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported Saturday that all of the prison’s 263 inmates are suspects in the smuggling attempt, though a spokesperson said, “It will be hard to discover who is responsible since the cat does not speak.” Loeb, Cooperman Stand Out in Horrid Year for Hedge Funds (CNBC) Third Point was the clear hedge fund standout in a horrible year for the industry as almost nine out of 10 managers underperformed the S&P 500. Omega Advisors' Leon Cooperman also scored big. Loeb — once better known for his acerbic letters to CEOs — used an activist position in Yahoo and the contrarian buying of Greek bonds to drive the firm's flagship fund to a 21 percent gain in 2012. The firm's more-leveraged Ultra fund posted an even bigger 34 percent return...Cooperman's fund had a net return of 26 percent in 2012. Banks Zero In On Foreclosure Pact (WSJ) Banks were closing in on a $10 billion foreclosure-abuse settlement with regulators that could be announced as soon as Monday, according to people familiar with the talks. The settlement was nearly complete Sunday afternoon, the people said, after the Federal Reserve backed down on a demand for more compensation for consumers and other changes to the pact. Bankers threatened to walk away from the deal if the Fed's demand for an additional $300 million was included, a person briefed on the talks said. Junk Bonds' Fire Is Poised to Fade (WSJ) Junk bonds started 2013 much like they finished 2012—on fire. In just three trading days this year, bonds of low-rated companies delivered returns of almost three-quarters of a percent, even as most other types of bonds lost value. And junk bonds continued to clock new milestones: Average prices soared to their highest since 2004 and average yields, which decline as prices rise, dropped below 6% for the first time ever, according to Barclays. But the rapid march is making fund managers and analysts wary. Prices are now so high—averaging more than 105 cents on the dollar—that there is little room for them to climb much further, some investors say. These are lofty prices for bonds that usually trade below 100 cents, reflecting the higher default risk for such companies. At the very least, returns will pale in comparison with the 15% achieved in 2012, analysts and investors say. NHL, Players Settle Labor Dispute (AP) On the 113th day of a management lockout and five days before the league's deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. news conference to announce there will be a season, after all. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr both appeared drained, wearing sweaters and not neckties, when they stood side by side at the hotel and announced labor peace. "We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman said. "We've got to dot a lot of Is, cross a lot of Ts. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon." Hostess in Talks to Sell Off Bread Brands (WSJ) Hostess could disclose Flowers, Grupo Bimbo or others as opening bidders in a looming bankruptcy-court auction for the assets as soon as this week, said people familiar with the matter. Hostess, whose bread brands include Wonder Bread, Nature's Pride, Home Pride, Merita and Butternut, is still determining how to split up assets and package them for buyers, one of the people said. Gérard Depardieu gives up French citizenship after bitter tax fight (GM) In a fit of pique, French movie star Gérard Depardieu announced during the weekend that he would give up his citizenship after politicians and the media took him to task for moving to Belgium and avoiding an impending tax hike for the rich. Mr. Depardieu is not France’s first fiscal refugee but his high-profile door-slamming so monopolized public debate that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had on Monday to parse whether or not he had insulted the actor. “I did not call Mr. Depardieu a loser, I said that it was loser-like [to move to Belgium to avoid taxes],” Mr. Ayrault told reporters...The “loser” comment seemed to have been the jab that stung Mr. Depardieu the most. “Loser, did you say loser?” the 63-year–old actor began an open letter to Mr. Ayrault that appeared Sunday in Le Journal du dimanche. Mr. Depardieu wrote that he had paid a total of €145-million in income tax in the last four decades and kept 80 people employed. He added that he had been taxed at a marginal rate of 85 per cent this year. “I am giving you back my passport and my social insurance, which I had never used. We no longer have the same fatherland. I am a true European, a citizen of the world.”