Opening Bell: 8.25.16

Regulators approve hemp derivatives exchange; Buffett could lose an $8-per-second windfall on his Dow Chemical stock; Ohio police find quarter pound of meth in Combos snack wrappers; and more.
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Regulators Approve Hemp Derivatives Exchange (WSJ)
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission approved the first exchange for hemp derivatives when it allowed Seed SEF to register a swap execution facility, a trading platform. The industrial hemp trading platform is one of 23 SEFs registered with the CFTC, the agency said. Industrial producers have long sought to distance hemp, which is used in an array of products from biofuels to clothing, from marijuana, a biological cousin that also comes from a variety of the cannabis sativa plant. Unlike marijuana, however, industrial hemp must contain less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the compound that produces a high.

Buffett Could Lose an $8-Per-Second Windfall on His Dow Chemical Stock (WSJ)
Shares of Dow have spent much of the past month hovering above $53—perilously close to a level that would cause Berkshire to lose a $255 million-a-year dividend. Since 2009, when Berkshire lent Dow Chemical $3 billion to help finance its purchase of Rohm & Haas, Dow has been on the hook for paying an 8.5% annual dividend on three million shares of preferred stock. Those shares have resulted in more than $1.5 billion for Berkshire. As Mr. Buffett likes to say, that amounts to $8 a second. But the agreement has an escape hatch: If Dow’s shares exceed $53.72 for at least 20 trading days in a 30-day period, the chemical company can convert Berkshire’s preferred shares into common stock, which pays a 3.4% annual regular dividend but no special dividend. Kuwait’s sovereign-wealth fund also lent Dow $1 billion under the same terms.

Hedge Funds Suffer Biggest Redemptions Since 2009 (Bloomberg)
Investors pulled an estimated $25.2 billion from hedge funds last month, the biggest monthly redemption since February 2009, according to an eVestment report.

Ex-Comverse CEO pleads guilty to fraud, a decade after fleeing to Africa (Reuters)
The former chief executive officer of Comverse Technology Inc pleaded guilty to securities fraud on Wednesday and was ordered detained a decade after fleeing the United States for Namibia to avoid prosecution. Jacob "Kobi" Alexander, the Woodbury, New York-based software developer's founder, entered the plea in federal court in Brooklyn, after ending his fight to avoid extradition. Following his plea, the 64-year-old Israeli citizen's lawyers sought his release on a $25 million bond pending his Dec. 16 sentencing. But U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered Alexander detained, calling him a flight risk. "His intelligence and his guile are a clear indication that he can't be trusted," Garaufis said.

Roof Jumper Gets Wedged Between Buildings Trying To Impress Gal (HP)
Grant Birdsong, the 22-year-old University of Pittsburgh student reportedly was attempting to woo a lady when he leaped between two buildings around 2 a.m. Tuesday. “The young man met a girl, brought her up to a rooftop and decided to impress her by leaping from one roof to the next,” Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Birdsong seems to have misjudged the distance. He fell into the space between the two buildings and became wedged between a Bruegger’s Bagels and Qdoba Mexican Grill, WPXI-TV reported.

SEC fines Wilbur Ross firm $2.3 million over fees (Reuters)
Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross' investment firm WL Ross & Co agreed on Wednesday to pay a $2.3 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges that it did not properly disclose some fees it charged investors. The fine is the latest in a string of actions taken by the SEC against the private equity sector, as it seeks to improve transparency and crack down on undisclosed fee collection by some fund managers.

Turing Pharmaceuticals Accused of Retaliating for Sex Assault Complaint (Dealbook)
As Martin Shkreli, the disgraced former executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, smirked before the cameras at a congressional hearing in February, another executive sat calmly to his right, defending the company’s controversial pricing practices even as Mr. Shkreli took the Fifth Amendment. Now, that executive, Nancy Retzlaff, has filed a federal complaint against Turing, accusing one of Mr. Shkreli’s friends, a fellow founder of the company, of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room in March. He resigned from Turing after an internal investigation, which, she says, led the company leaders to retaliate against her.

Short Crude at $50, Says CEO of Legendary Trader Phibro (Bloomberg)
It’s almost time to short this year’s crude rally, according to the new chief executive officer of Phibro LLC, the century-old commodities firm that was once the largest independent oil refiner in the U.S. Simon Greenshields, who became Phibro’s CEO in January after his firm bought the merchant trader, said traders should short benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude at $50 to $55 a barrel. Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, meeting next month, probably won’t cut output, and Iran’s production is set to rise, Greenshields said in an interview Wednesday. WTI fell 2.8 percent to $46.77 on Wednesday.

Ohio police find quarter pound of meth in Combos snack wrappers (UPI)
Authorities in Ohio said two women were arrested when their Combos "Sweet and Salty" snack wrappers were found to contain something far more bitter: meth. The Butler County Sheriff's Office said Butler County Undercover Narcotic Agents received a tip about a vehicle carrying drugs from Georgia Aug. 20. Agents conducted a traffic stop and searched the vehicle, which was found to contain $1,000 cash and more than a quarter pound of methamphetamine disguised in Combos Sweet and Salty snack wrappers. The sheriff's office estimated the meth had a street value of about $30,000.

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Opening Bell: 11.30.12

Germany Approves Greek Aid (WSJ) German parliamentarians approved with an overwhelming majority a package of new aid measures for Greece Friday, clinching support for a plan to close a €14 billion ($18.17 billion) gap in the heavily indebted nation's finances and to ready a near €44 billion tranche of promised aid. The vote shows that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been able to consolidate the support of her center-right coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats, many of whom have expressed skepticism that Greece can be saved without significant costs to German taxpayers. Her coalition voted 90% in favor of the measures. Leave "fairy world" behind, Draghi tells euro zone (Reuters) "We have not yet emerged from the crisis," Draghi told Europe 1 radio. "The recovery for most of the euro zone will certainly begin in the second half of 2013." "The crisis has shown that we were living in a fairy world," the ECB chief later added at a conference with top financial officials, pointing to the unsustainable debts, weak banks and poor policy coordination that gave birth to the crisis three years ago. Obama Takes ‘Fiscal Cliff’ on the Road; Republicans Stew (CNBC) President Barack Obama, reapplying his re-election campaign theme of protecting the middle class, heads to Pennsylvania on Friday suggesting that Republicans could spoil Christmas by driving the country over the "fiscal cliff." The president's road trip, visiting a factory that makes Hasbro's [HAS 38.60 --- UNCH] Tinkertoys, is infuriating Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner called it a "victory lap" as he rejected Obama's proposals to avoid the cliff, the combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to start taking effect in January. Berkshire Hathaway, CaixaBank Agree to Reinsurance Deal (WSJ) Berkshire Hathaway will pay CaixaBank SA million €600 million ($778.7 million) for the future cash flow from a portfolio of life insurance policies, the Barcelona-based bank said Friday, a rare dip into a fiscally stressed euro-zone country for the investment firm run by Warren Buffett. If You Like Late Nights, Try Being an Analyst in Hungary (WSJ) As the clock ticked toward midnight on a recent night, stock analyst Gergely Gabler sat sleepily in his pajamas at the small desk in his bedroom, waiting. Then, just after 12, he sprang into action, evaluating the newly released earnings report of Hungary's largest bank. For the next two hours, Mr. Gabler worked on a report about OTP Bank's performance for clients of his firm, Hungarian brokerage Equilor Investments, before catching some shut eye, only to awake about 3½ hours later so he could be in his office to field questions by 7 a.m. Burning the midnight oil is a painful quarterly tradition for analysts and financial journalists in Hungary, where the country's biggest blue-chip companies publish their results in the wee hours, after markets in New York have closed and long before they open anywhere in Europe. "I'm a night owl, so I don't mind staying up," Mr. Gabler said. The hard part, the 28-year-old said, is getting out of bed the next day. That morning, he grabbed a red-and-black can of Hell, a caffeine-laden Hungarian energy drink, to fuel his workday. Moody's Puts Aston Martin on Watch for Downgrade (NYT) “The review was prompted by a significant deterioration in Aston Martin’s liquidity profile as per end September 2012, caused by a much weaker cash generation and operating performance in the third quarter than anticipated by the company and compared to Moody’s expectations,” Falk Frey, a Moody’s analyst, said in a statement. Harvard Approves BDSM Group (Crimson) It started last October with a meal in Currier dining hall with a handful of friends who shared something in common: an affinity for kinky sex. More than a year after the group first began informally meeting over meals to discuss issues and topics relating to kinky sex, Harvard College Munch has grown from seven to about 30 members and is one of 15 student organization that will be approved by the Committee on Student Life this Friday. Michael, who was granted anonymity by The Crimson to protect his privacy, is the founder of Munch, an informal lunch or dinner meeting for people across the kink community. For him, the recognition will provide a sense of ease for current and future members, knowing they are receiving institutional support. “It’s a little hyperbolic for me to get teary-eyed and paternal about sophomores, but it’s really a joy to see the experience they will have now,” Michael said. Michael said there are many benefits to being officially recognized on campus such as being able to poster for events and promote Munch’s presence...But for Michael, the biggest advantage to being recognized comes with “the fact of legitimacy,” he said. “[Our recognition] shows we are being taken seriously.” Mae, a member of the organization who asked to be identified by her middle name, said since its formation the group has provided her with a comfortable space to discuss her interests. “I didn’t think that anyone was even remotely interested [in kink] on campus,” Mae said. “It’s a community where you can feel safe, and you can feel comfortable talking about [kink].” Cohen's Damage Control (NYP) Beleaguered hedge fund honcho Steve Cohen held a conference call yesterday for his roughly 1,000 employees to explain potential civil charges against his firm, SAC Capital Advisors. The call with SAC’s employees went over similar talking points as the call with investors the previous day, according to a person familiar with the call. In the latest call, officials notified employees that last week, the $14 billion Stamford, Conn., hedge fund received a Wells Notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission tied to trading by a former portfolio manager who was arrested Nov. 20 on insider trading charges. McDonald’s Starved for Ideas as Burger King Lures Diners (Bloomberg) Burger King has been excelling at a game McDonald’s worked to perfect years ago, introducing a steady stream of new menu items, such as snack wraps and gingerbread sundaes for the holidays. McDonald’s has “not had anything to talk about of substance,” Michael Kelter, a New York-based analyst at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said in an interview. “People are going elsewhere.” Hong Kong IPOs Generate Little Excitement (WSJ) Hong Kong appears unlikely to regain its position as the world's top venue for initial public offerings anytime soon. In recent days, the city's biggest IPO in two years drew only lukewarm support, while another deal ran up against insufficient demand and a third was postponed. Recession Left Baby Bust as U.S. Births Lowest Since 1920 (Bloomberg) The country’s birth rate fell 8 percent from 2007 to 2010, according to a Pew Research Center report. The rate dropped 6 percent for U.S.-born women and plummeted 14 percent for foreign-born females since 2007, the onset of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The decline continued last year to the lowest point since records began in 1920. Rogue caviar fugitive Mario Garbarino admits his guilt in fishy egg smuggling scheme (NYDN) Isidoro (Mario) Garbarino, 69, who went on the lam 23 years ago pleaded guilty Thursday to smuggling $10 million worth of Russian and Iranian savruga and beluga to New York more than two decades ago. Garbarino’s plea deal requires him to pay $3 million in restitution. He also faces up to four years in prison when he is sentenced in January. Garbarino, a supplier to fancy gourmet shops including Zabar's, was indicted in 1987 for cheating the government on import duties. Feds say his Bronx company, Aquamar Gourmet Imports, engaged in an elaborate scheme to smuggle more than 100,000 pounds of the expensive delicacy from 1984 to 1987. As part of the plot, Garbarino switched the high-quality caviar with much cheaper American caviar which he then sold to Pan Am, other airlines and cruise ships operators as the real thing. In 1989, Garbarino fled. He was nabbed two months ago in Panama and extradited to New York. "Isidoro Garbarino ran his high-end importation business in a low-end way — cheating the government out of millions of dollars in tax revenues and defrauding his international clients who paid top dollar for exotic caviar they did not receive," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara...Garbarino admitted he “occasionally misrepresented the nature of the caviar” to avoid paying the required taxes.

Opening Bell: 01.04.13

SEC Drops Case Against Ex-Berkshire Exec Sokol (Reuters) The U.S. securities regulator has decided not to take action against David Sokol, once considered a possible candidate for the top job at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Sokol's lawyer told Reuters. In 2011, Buffett said Sokol violated the company's insider trading rules to score a $3 million windfall profit on shares of U.S. chemicals maker Lubrizol, which rose by nearly a third after Berkshire Hathaway announced it would buy the company. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Sokol's investment in Lubrizol shortly after Sokol resigned from Berkshire Hathaway. Sokol's lawyer Barry Wm. Levine told Reuters late on Thursday that he was informed that the SEC had wrapped up its probe and decided not to take action against Sokol. "SEC has terminated its investigation and has concluded not to bring any proceedings against Sokol," said Levine, a lawyer at legal firm Dickstein Shapiro. Sokol has been "completely cleared" as there was no evidence against his client, Levine said. Cohen’s SAC Tops Most Profitable List Amid Insider Probes (Bloomberg) SAC Capital International, Cohen’s flagship fund, was the world’s most-profitable hedge fund in the first 10 months of 2012, earning $789.5 million for Cohen, 56, and his managers, according to Bloomberg Markets’ annual ranking of hedge funds...SAC Capital International is No. 1 not because of performance; it ties for No. 86 on that measure, with a 10 percent return in the Markets ranking of the 100 top-performing funds. Rather, the fund earned the most money because Cohen charges some of the highest fees on Wall Street. While most funds impose a 1 to 2 percent management fee and then take 15 to 20 percent of the profits, Cohen levies 3 percent and as much as 50 percent, according to investors. Geithner's Planned Departure Puts Obama In A Tough Spot (Reuters) The Treasury Department said Geithner would stick to his previously announced schedule to stay until sometime around the Jan. 21 inauguration. Obama chose Geithner to lead the just-ended negotiations with Congress to avert the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes that threatened to push the economy back into recession. But the deal, which preserved most of the Bush-era tax breaks for Americans, sets up a series of crucial fiscal deadlines by delaying automatic spending cuts until March 1 and not increasing the government's borrowing limit. That puts Obama in the tough spot of nominating another Treasury secretary and asking the Senate to approve his choice when lawmakers are in the middle of another budget battle. Egan Jones Says Further US Downgrades Unlikely (CNBC) "This latest round (of negotiations) indicates a sign of health. You have a major ideological clash going on in Congress and many people uncomfortable with it, but it is part of democracy. The more positive light is that we actually have a deal and can move forward," Sean Egan, managing director of Egan-Jones told CNBC on Friday. "We've gotten a lot more comfortable about the U.S. and we probably won't take additional negative actions for the foreseeable future," he added. Almost All of Wall Street Got 2012 Market Calls Wrong (Bloomberg) From John Paulson’s call for a collapse in Europe to Morgan Stanley’s warning that U.S. stocks would decline, Wall Street got little right in its prognosis for the year just ended. Paulson, who manages $19 billion in hedge funds, said the euro would fall apart and bet against the region’s debt. Morgan Stanley predicted the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index would lose 7 percent and Credit Suisse foresaw wider swings in equity prices. All of them proved wrong last year and investors would have done better listening to Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, who said the real risk was being too pessimistic. The ill-timed advice shows that even the largest banks and most-successful investors failed to anticipate how government actions would influence markets. Unprecedented central bank stimulus in the U.S. and Europe sparked a 16 percent gain in the S&P 500 including dividends, led to a 23 percent drop in the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, paid investors in Greek debt 78 percent and gave Treasuries a 2.2 percent return even after Warren Buffett called bonds “dangerous.” Fed Divided Over Bond Buys (WSJ) A new fault line has opened up at the Federal Reserve over how long to continue bond-buying programs aimed at spurring stronger economic growth. Minutes released Thursday of the Fed's Dec. 11-12 policy meeting showed that officials were divided. Some wanted to continue the programs through the end of 2013, others wanted to end them well before then and a minority wanted to halt the programs right away. Swiss Bank Pleads Guilty In Probe (WSJ) In the latest blow to Switzerland's centuries-old banking practices, the country's oldest bank pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge in the U.S. on Thursday and admitted that it helped wealthy Americans for years avoid tens of millions of dollars in taxes by hiding their income from secret accounts abroad. Wegelin & Co., founded in 1741, is the latest Swiss bank to reach a deal with U.S. prosecutors as they crack down on Americans who kept their money in secret accounts overseas and the entities which helped them. Three Wegelin bankers also were charged criminally in the U.S. last year. Subway worker tells customer to 'fight me like a man,' during confrontation over ketchup (WFTV) Luis Martinez said he stopped by a Subway shop in a Walmart on South Semoran Boulevard late Tuesday night to get something to eat. He said he ordered a Philly cheese steak the way he always does. "American cheese, onions and ketchup," said Martinez. Lawrence Ordone was working behind the counter. "He wants ketchup on the Philly cheese steak and I have never put -- we don't even have ketchup at Subway -- I've never put ketchup on anybody's sandwich," said Ordone. Martinez said he didn't want the sandwich without the ketchup and that a man next to him in line offered to buy the sandwich. Ordone said that Martinez mouthed off at the man. Martinez denied saying anything, but neither he or Ordone disputed what they said happened next. "That's when I flew off the handle," said Ordone. "He shoved a chair to the side, like knocked it down to come at me, and I said, 'This is going to be serious,'" said Martinez. "I said, 'Let's go, fight me like a man,'" said Ordone. "I was scared. Next thing, I'm thinking a gun's going to come out," said Martinez. Ordone said he blocked the customer so he couldn't get out. "He threatened to kill me in front of my wife," said Martinez. Martinez called 911, but by the time police got there the Subway worker had already left. Ordone said he was fired from his job Wednesday, and that he is baffled the confrontation started over something as simple as ketchup. "There's ketchup three aisles down. You can go buy your own ketchup, and I promise to God, you can put as much as you want on it and nobody's going to say nothing," said Ordone. Economy Adds 155,000 Jobs (WSJ) Rebuilding following superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October, likely added to job growth last month. Nationally, employment in the construction sector advanced by 30,000 jobs. Meanwhile, manufacturing payrolls increased by 25,000 and health-care jobs grew by 45,000. JPMorgan Faces Sanction for Refusing to Provide Madoff Documents (Bloomberg) The Treasury Department’s inspector general has threatened to punish JPMorgan Chase for failing to turn over documents to regulators investigating the bank’s ties to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Inspector General Eric Thorson gave the largest U.S. bank a Jan. 11 deadline to cooperate with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency probe or risk sanctions for impeding the agency’s oversight. JPMorgan, according to the Dec. 21 letter, contends the information is protected by attorney-client privilege. Rich Catch a Break With Budget Deal Providing Deductions (Bloomberg) “The increases in taxes and limits to deductions are more favorable than expected,” said Christopher Zander, partner and head of wealth planning at Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR)’s wealth management unit. “They could have been worse for high net-worth taxpayers.” Regulators to ease up on banks to get credit flowing (Reuters) Banks will get more time to build up cash buffers to protect against market shocks under a rule change that could help free up credit for struggling economies, a European regulatory source said. The Basel Committee, made up of banking supervisors from nearly 30 countries, is expected to announce the revision on Sunday to its "liquidity coverage" ratio or LCR, part of efforts to make banks less likely to need taxpayer help again in a crisis. The change comes after heavy pressure from banks and some regulators, who feared Basel's original version would suck up too much liquidity at a time when ailing economies are badly in need of a ready supply of credit to finance growth. 'Stripper' arrested after performance art leads to ruckus in Hallandale (SS) According to police and witnesses, Mena, 25, was first spotted standing and yelling in the middle of A1A outside her condo building along the 1800 block of South Ocean Drive about 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday. Noel von Kauffman, 40, said he was walking along the street when he noticed Mena trying to direct traffic while wearing a tank-top, cut-off jean shorts and tall boots...At some point, Mena picked up a traffic cone and threw it at a car driven by Dieter Heinrich, 49, of Dania Beach, according to an arrest report. The cone broke the car's side mirror, causing about $300 in damages, the report indicated. When Heinrich got out of his car, Mena allegedly spat in his face. Von Kauffman said he jumped in to help Heinrich, who had children in the back seat of his car. Mena scratched von Kauffman's wrist as the two men tried to restrain her and move her away from the busy roadway, according to the police report. After pinning her to the ground, von Kauffman said the woman first tried to say the incident was part of a television show and that everything was being caught on camera. Then she claimed she was a federal agent. Then she said she was friends with Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper and everyone involved would be in trouble, von Kauffman said.

Opening Bell: 12.13.12

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

Opening Bell: 01.17.13

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

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Opening Bell: 9.14.16

Buffett's is strangely silent on Wells Fargo; Fed's Brainard tells Trump to STFU; Britain cautions people not to swallow new 5-pound note; Eight-year-old rugby player tramples other kids, draws ‘beast mode’ comparison to ex NFL star Marshawn Lynch; and more.

Opening Bell: 01.03.13

Fresh Budget Fights Brewing (WSJ) If Congress doesn't do more in the coming months, Moody's warned, the company could follow Standard & Poor's in downgrading U.S. debt. "Further measures that bring about a downward debt trajectory over the medium term are likely to be needed to support the AAA rating," Moody's said Wednesday. But the battles on how to do that are far from over. Republicans say any further deficit reduction or legislation to avoid across-the-board spending cuts should come from reducing spending. President Obama and many Democrats advocate a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. The most serious skirmish will arrive toward the end of February, when the U.S. Treasury is expected to be unable to pay all the government's bills unless Congress boosts the federal borrowing limit. Then on March 1, the across-the-board spending cuts of the fiscal cliff, deferred in this week's deal, are scheduled to begin slicing into military and domestic programs. And on March 27, a government shutdown looms unless Congress approves funding for government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. CEOs Pan Fiscal Cliff Deal, Vow to Continue Debt Fight (Reuters) "I think this deal's a disaster," said Peter Huntsman, chief executive of chemical producer Huntsman Corp. "We're just living in a fantasy land. We're borrowing more and more money. This did absolutely nothing to address the fundamental issue of the debt cliff." Former Wells Fargo CEO Dick Kovacevich said the agreement confirms that Washington and both parties are totally out of control. "I think it's a joke," Kovacevich said of the deal. "It's stunning to me that after working on this for months and supposedly really getting to work in the last 30 days that this is what you come up with." Obama’s Warning to Boehner Started Road to Budget Plan (Bloomberg) President Barack Obama had a warning for John Boehner at a Dec. 13 White House meeting: Stop opposing higher tax rates for top earners, or the president would dedicate his second term to blaming Republicans for a global recession. The next day, the House speaker called the president and said he was open to a tax-rate increase on annual income of more than $1 million...While the budget deal Obama and Boehner were negotiating fell apart, the speaker’s concession on tax rates ultimately allowed Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, to craft the last-minute plan Congress passed Jan. 1. Nouriel Roubini: US Will Soon 'Get Messy' Again (CNBC) "It won't be long before there is another crisis. Two months, in fact." Pershing to Take 'Passive Shareholder' Role in General Growth (WSJ) Pershing Square Capital Management LP agreed to sell $271.9 million in General Growth Properties warrants to Brookfield Asset Management Inc., as part of a deal between the mall owner's two biggest shareholders that would resolve their recent disputes and see Pershing become a passive shareholder. Brookfield, in turn, offered to sell the warrants, which represent the right to acquire 18.4 million shares of General Growth stock, back to General Growth for the same purchase price. Pershing also agreed to limit its ownership stake in General Growth to no more than 9.9% and intends to become a passive shareholder. Brookfield agreed to limit its ownership in General Growth to 45%. Bank Of Canada won’t discuss melting plastic bills, says national security behind silence (NP) Disclosing details of behind-the-scenes discussions about tales of melting banknotes could endanger national security or international relations, says Canada’s central bank. In response to a formal request from The Canadian Press, the Bank Of Canada released 134 pages of internal records — almost completely blanked out — concerning allegations its new polymer bills melted in the scorching summer sun. The bank began issuing $100 polymer banknotes in late 2011, saying they were harder to counterfeit than paper notes and would last much longer. Unconfirmed reports of cooked currency emerged in July when a Kelowna, B.C., bank teller said she had heard of cases in which several bills had melted together inside a car. Soon after, Mona Billard of Cambridge, Ont., reported that she had returned eight plastic bills in January, after her son stashed his $800 Christmas bonus in a tin can and hid it near a baseboard heater. When he retrieved them the next day to make a deposit, the $100 banknotes had shriveled and melted. Ms. Billard exchanged clean bills for the shrunken, unusable ones. “The leather couch is up against the baseboard heater, it doesn’t melt,” she said. “The kids’ toys are back there, they don’t melt.” The Bank of Canada will reimburse damaged notes, but only if they clear an examination by an Ottawa laboratory. Paulson&Co Added To Abacus Suit Against Goldman (Bloomberg) Paulson & Co. was named as a defendant in a proposed revised lawsuit by ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. against Goldman Sachs over a collateralized debt obligation called Abacus. Paulson conspired with Goldman Sachs to deceive ACA Financial, which provided financial guaranty insurance for the deal, ACA Financial said in papers filed yesterday in Manhattan. Private Sector Added 215,000 Jobs Last Month (WSJ) Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected ADP to report a gain of 150,000 private jobs. Preet Bharara and other financial heavyweights opposing Paul Singer's attempt to get Argentina to pay debt (NYP) US Attorney Preet Bharara and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink are among the latest bold-faced names to oppose Singer’s attempt to get Argentina to pay him and others $1.3 billion on defaulted debt. Singer, the hedge fund billionaire who runs Elliott Management, is among the 8 percent of Argentina debtholders who refused to accept a 70 percent haircut following a 2001 default by the embattled South American country. Singer inched closer to winning the epic legal showdown in November when a federal judge ruled Argentina could not pay Fink’s BlackRock or other holders of the reorganized debt without putting money in escrow for Singer’s band of investors. An appeals court slowed Singer’s victory parade but refused to set aside the judge’s order. Now, Bharara, Fink’s $3.67 trillion bond firm and others are urging the appeals court to throw the case out. Basel Becomes Babel as Conflicting Rules Undermine Safety (Bloomberg) While higher capital requirements, curbs on banks trading with their own money and other rules have reduced risk, they have magnified the complexity of supervision, according to two dozen regulators, bankers and analysts interviewed by Bloomberg News. Even if the new regulations can be enforced, they don’t go far enough to ensure safety, said Robert Jenkins, a member of the Bank of England’s financial policy committee. Cops: Woman, 50, Battered Boyfriend, 32, Because Six Came Before Nine (TSG) Jennie Scott, 50, was booked into the Manatee County lockup on a misdemeanor charge stemming from the 11 PM encounter in the Palmetto bedroom of Jilberto Deleon, 32. Scott has dated Deleon “for the last 5 years on and off,” according to a sheriff’s report. Deputies were summoned to Deleon’s home by a witness who heard the couple arguing and saw Scott atop Deleon “punching and scratching him.” She also allegedly struck Deleon with a stick and threatened to hit him with a wrench before the tool was taken from her hand by the witness. When questioned by a cop, Scott explained that she and Deleon “were giving each other oral pleasure in the bedroom” when Deleon “finished first and stopped pleasuring her.” Scott added that she “became upset and they began arguing.” A deputy noted that Scott said that she was also mad at Deleon because she had “heard [him] having sex with another woman over the phone earlier in the day.” Scott struggled with deputies before being placed in a police cruiser, where she kicked a window until being warned that she would be maced unless she stopped.

Opening Bell: 03.14.13

US Probes Gold Pricing (WSJ) The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is examining the setting of prices in London, in which a handful of banks meet twice daily and set the spot price for a troy ounce of physical gold, the people said. The CFTC is looking at issues including whether the setting of prices for gold—and the smaller silver market—is transparent. No formal investigation has been opened, the people said. US And UK Tussle Over Trader (WSJ) Officials in the U.S. Justice Department and the U.K. Serious Fraud Office clashed late last year in their mutual pursuit of Tom Hayes, the former UBS trader who is viewed by prosecutors in both countries as a ringleader of banks' attempts to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, these people said. While jurisdictional disputes among law enforcement agencies aren't unusual, some U.S. officials worry that the friction on this case will jeopardize trans-Atlantic cooperation on future financial-fraud investigations. The spat revolves around a sequence of events that played out in rapid succession last December. The trouble began, the people said, when the U.K. government unexpectedly blocked a Justice Department request to interview Mr. Hayes, who is British and lives outside London. Then, without notifying the U.S., British fraud prosecutors on Dec. 11 arrested Mr. Hayes and two others in connection with their own probe—infuriating American officials, according to people familiar with the U.S. investigation. The U.S. prosecutors punched back the next day by filing sealed criminal fraud charges against Mr. Hayes. Banks Bow To New York On Clawbacks (WSJ) Three more top banks, including Citigroup, will broaden their clawback policies to cover more executives, increase disclosures or add potential triggers. The moves increase to six the number of leading financial companies that have bowed to pressure from the New York City's Comptroller's Office. Lehman Judge Allows 'London Whale' Subpoena in JP Morgan Fight (Dow Jones) A judge on Wednesday said Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. creditors can subpoena Bruno Iksil in its lawsuit against J.P. Morgan, ensuring the phrase "London Whale" will stay in the lexicon for at least a bit longer. Judge James Peck of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan said Mr. Iksil, who is in France, can be questioned over the alleged mismarking of $273.3 million in derivatives when he worked at J.P. Morgan in the days leading up to Lehman's bankruptcy. "I consider it inappropriate except for in a clear case of abuse to cut off discovery of a witness that has fingerprints all over a transaction," Judge Peck said. "And in this case, Mr. Iksil's fingerprints are on the $273.3 million transaction that took on some significance in the case." Lehman U.K. Wins $1 Billion Appeal on Hedging Contracts (Bloomberg) The ruling may result in London-based Lehman Brothers International Europe and its administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP receiving an extra $1 billion, according to a written decision handed down this morning by Judge Mary Arden in the U.K. Court of Appeals. Jobless Claims Unexpectedly Fall as Labor Market Improves (Bloomberg) First-time jobless claims fell by 10,000 to 332,000 in the week ended March 9, the fewest since mid January, according to data today from the Labor Department in Washington. The median forecast of 49 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 350,000. The four-week average declined to a five- year low. JPMorgan exec sued over 'bullying' behavior (NYP) Plaintiff Walter Suarez, a former financial adviser, was banished to the company’s Delancey Street outpost when he complained about colleague Michael Quach, and the move cost Suarez an $80 million client list, $20 million of which was taken by JPMorgan, his lawyers claim. According to Suarez, Quach was a bully who resorted to physical violence to intimidate colleagues. Suarez, who is Hispanic, says Quach, an Asian-American, got away with the behavior because bosses preferred Asian employees. “Eventually, it got to the point of being ridiculous. This isn’t the corner bodega,” Suarez told The Post. “We’re investment people. This is a professional setting. That’s when I spoke up. “He just wasn’t a very professional person from the get-go, and I don’t think that I was the only person who felt that way.” Suarez told superiors that Quach had manhandled several staffers, including one woman who was “physically assaulted during working hours on the banking floor,” according to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court by attorneys Matthew Blit and Amanda Gudis. Suarez said Quach even threatened to punch him out in front of clients. 'Canada's Warren Buffett' Interested in Greece's Top Bank (Reuters) Greece's biggest lender, National Bank (NBG), said on Wednesday that Canadian investment fund Fairfax Holdings was interested in acquiring a stake in it by taking part in a planned recapitalization. Under the terms of cash-strapped Greece's international bailout, its top four lenders must issue new shares by the end of April to replenish their capital after the losses they suffered in the debt crisis from bad loans and bond writedowns. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have set aside 27.5 billion euros ($37 billion) in bailout funds to invest in the new bank shares. But private investors must buy at least 10 percent of them or the lenders will be nationalized. NBG said in a bourse filing that Fairfax was among other investors who had expressed an interest, without giving details. Fairfax is controlled by investment guru Prem Watsa, known as the "Warren Buffett of Canada." SandRidge Gives In, Settling Proxy Fight (WSJ) SandRidge Energy agreed to fire its chief executive or give control of its board to an activist shareholder, settling a closely watched proxy battle amid an outbreak of investor unrest in the oil patch. SandRidge, an oil-and-gas producer with a stock-market value of about $3 billion, immediately appointed four directors to its board who were nominated by hedge fund TPG-Axon Capital LP, which owns 7.3% of its shares. Bofa Battles Credit Suisse for 50% Markups on State Loans (Bloomberg) The firms are among at least five lenders in talks to loan five states at least $6.5 billion this year -- more than double last year’s total -- as local governments seek to chop debt costs by replacing loans from a 1997 federal bailout that average 14.4 percent in reais. Credit Suisse is lending Mato Grosso, an agricultural state in western Brazil, $1 billion for 15 years. The loan, with a rate equal to 11.2 percent in reais and guaranteed by Brazil if Mato Grosso defaults, compares with 7.35 percent for yields of similar-maturity government debt. Private Equity Could Trigger Another Crisis: Bank of England (CNBC) The amount of leverage in the U.K. corporate sector poses a risk to the stability of the financial system and could produce the next big financial crisis over the coming years, the U.K.'s central bank has warned. White Rock woman holds 'Lying Cheating Sale' to sell all her husband's stuff while he's 'gone with his floozie' (The Province) A scorned White Rock woman held a yard sale on the weekend to get rid of her husband's stuff while he was "gone with his floozie," according to a Craigslist ad. "Husband left us for a piece of trash, selling everything while he is gone this weekend with his floozie," read the text of the ad, which was posted early Friday afternoon to the free classifieds site. The Province dropped by the yard sale on Saturday and, sure enough, bargain-hunters were sifting through the goods which included office chairs, camping gear and other offerings. The lady in charge of the sale declined to speak on the record. Her colourful Craigslist ad, however, said she was selling everything and moving after 10 years of marriage. The featured items included his favourite red leather reclining theatre-seating sofas, and "lots of tools which he didn't have a clue how to use." "I want the house empty on Monday when he returns because that will be a shock for him to see. So come pick out what you would like Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m. "Don't come too early (like he did) because I will be thoroughly enjoying some wine with my girlfriends this evening as we clean out all this stuff and likely be nursing hangovers in the morning. So please speak softly to the ladies wearing the sunglasses." The ad discouraged clothes-buyers, "as we will have already burned those in the driveway," but it did offer to let visitors see the pile of ashes.