Opening Bell: 11.8.16 - American Ragnarok Edition

Enjoy the season finale of America.
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It ends today, and you'll need the time you usually spend clicking to vote.

Throughout the day we'll be updating the site to reflect the last batshit day of a batshit election. So go forth and cast your ballot for the politically damaged and issue-laden career politician who also might be Goldman Sachs' goomah or the faux populist demagogue, fact-allergic, human abyss on the edge of the American political psyche.

Embrace the darkness. Buy gold.

- The Editors

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Opening Bell: 11.02.12

Economy Adds 171,000 Jobs (WSJ) U.S. payrolls increased by a seasonally adjusted 171,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday. The politically important unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.9%. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected a gain of 125,000 in payrolls and a 7.9% jobless rate. Hedge Fund Cashes In On Greek Bonds (Reuters) London-based hedge fund Adelante Asset Management has made a 70 percent gain on a sale of Greek bonds, showing the potential for big profits from betting on a recovery in the fortunes of a country effectively off-limits to investors a few months ago...Since the restructuring, Greek government bond prices have strengthened, allowing Adelante to sell them for around 24 cents on the euro, having bought them for around 14 cents in June, the company said. A Greek government bond maturing in 2042, for example, is currently trading at around 20.8 cents on the euro, Thomson Reuters data shows. Other hedge funds have made similar bets. Third Point, a high profile New York hedge fund, for example, has been a significant buying of cut-price Greek bonds. RBS Eyes Libor Settlement Soon (WSJ) RBS wants to seal a settlement with regulators over its alleged rigging of key interest rates in the coming months, as the partstate-owned bank looks to draw a line under the scandal. Speaking to reporters at the bank's third-quarter results presentation, Chief Executive Stephen Hester said he would be "disappointed" if he couldn't provide details on a settlement by February. "We are up for settling with all and everyone as soon as they are ready. But each regulator has to satisfy itself that it has all the facts," he said. Deutsche Bank Faces Top Surcharge as FSB Shuffles Tiers (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank would be required to hold more capital and Bank of America Corp.’s burden stands to be reduced as global regulators shuffled the competitive balance among the world’s biggest banks. Citigroup, HSBC and JPMorgan join Deutsche Bank as firms that will be targeted for a capital surcharge of 2.5 percent, according to an updated list published yesterday by the Financial Stability Board. The change means Bank of America already exceeds requirements, while Deutsche Bank would be more than 2 percentage points below the new minimum of 9.5 percent. “That limits earnings potential for Citigroup, JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank compared to Bank of America, all other things being equal, so it’s certainly a competitive advantage for them,” said David Kass, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Short-Sellers of Europe Set to Be Unmasked (CNBC) The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), the EU regulator, has issued new rules on the short-selling of securities indicating that anyone with short positions of greater than 0.2 percent in an EU company’s shares must report it to regulators. Positions of more than 0.5 percent will be publicly released, naming both the company and the short-seller. Public disclosure is triggered any time that level is hit with each 0.1 percent increase or decrease after that. NYSE Open For Business Shows Wall Street Still Vulnerable (Bloomberg) The Securities and Exchange Commission may consider whether exchanges’ emergency regimens need to be bolstered, according to a person familiar with the regulator’s thinking who asked not to be named because the matter is private. The industry’s decision to halt equities and bond trading shows the challenge of maintaining markets when a catastrophe threatens New York City, home to 168,700 securities industry workers. “One of the purposes of having electronic exchanges and basing them away from New York City is for the market to be more robust and stay open,” Charles Jones, a finance professor at Columbia Business School in New York, said in a phone interview. “This is what the back-up plans were designed for. But the markets didn’t open.” David Blaine Entertains New Yorkers After Hurricane Sandy (NYP) When a backup generator at Old Homestead Steakhouse sputtered, the restaurant started serving hundreds of pounds of steaks, burgers, lobster tails and shrimp on the street outside for downtown denizens. David Blaine, the modern-day Harry Houdini who spent days recently being shocked in a steel suit, pitched in to provide spontaneous street entertainment. “David was rumbling by on his motorcycle, and he stopped to see why there was a line on 14th Street,” said a spy, adding 800 chowed down. Blaine then asked restaurant co-owner Greg Sherry if there was a deck of cards in the house. Blaine used the full deck and some spare silverware to perform magic tricks outside for an hour and a half. The magic man, an Old Homestead regular, was offered a doggie bag but said he’s on a special diet in preparation for his next stunt. Romney Faces Sale With A Win (WSJ) Mr. Romney's assets, valued at between $190 million and $250 million, include investments in hedge funds, private-equity funds and partnerships at Bain Capital, which he ran for 15 years. These entities have ownership stakes in dozens of companies that could be affected by government action, such as radio firm Clear Channel Communications Inc. and a video-surveillance firm based in China. Many businessmen and wealthy individuals have entered government service and sold off holdings. But a Romney sale would be especially complicated. Investments in private-equity funds can be difficult to value and seldom change hands. Any sale would have to be handled carefully to avoid any appearance that the incoming president was getting favorable treatment from a buyer. What Do Asia Markets Fear? Romney As President (CNBC) At a time of heightened uncertainty, with the ongoing European debt crisis and the upcoming leadership transition in China, a new president in the world’s largest economy will cause additional nervousness among Asian investors, experts told CNBC. “Asian traders don’t like change in leadership. You would see weakness in the markets if Romney won, because people would question how well he would deal with the impending doom of the ‘fiscal cliff.’ Obama would be a safer bet, as investors would enjoy continuity at a time of a lot of uncertainty,” said Justin Harper, market strategist, at IG Markets...Besides, Romney’s stance on China is particularly worrying feels Harper. The presidential hopeful has said he will name China a “currency manipulator,” which could lead to more tensions with the mainland, including on the trade front. “You would expect trade between the two nations to suffer, this would have a knee-jerk reaction on trade in the region,” he added. Fed Up With Fees (NYP) The manager of a large public pension’s private-equity program said for the last 24 months he has not committed money to any new private-equity fund that doesn’t give all fees it charges its companies back to investors. He is doing this because he wants an alignment of interest where he and the private-equity firm only make money by reselling a business. PE firms, he believes, will stop charging their companies fees if there is little in it for them. So, KKR, for example — responding to pressure — has agreed to give all fees it charges its companies in its new fund back to investors, the pension manager said. KKR is not the only firm making this change. Apax Partners, Blackstone Group, Centerbridge Partners, Providence Equity and TPG Capital are among those making the same concessions, the pension manager said. Local shelter mistakenly euthanizes family pet (WRCB) After waiting 10 days to be reunited with his dog, a local college student learned the family's pet had been euthanized by mistake. The Lab mix was being held at McKamey Animal Center, where administrators say a paperwork mix up led to the dog's death. Matt Sadler adopted the three-year-old Lab mix when he was just a puppy. "That was my best friend," Sadler says. "He was there for me through my parents' divorce and a lot of really hard tough times in my life." It was hard for Matt when Zion was quarantined last week, after jumping on a pizza delivery driver. "The lady didn't want to press charges, it wasn't anything serious, but the law has a 10-day quarantine period," he says. Because Zion was a month past due on his yearly rabies vaccine, he was held for the full 10 days at McKamey Animal Center. Thursday, Matt eagerly returned to the facility to take Zion home. "She says, ‘I'm sorry, Matt, we accidentally euthanized your dog'," Sadler says...McKamey has offered to cremate Zion, and allow Matt to adopt any dog he chooses.

Opening Bell: 12.10.12

U.S. authorities probe SAC for Weight Watchers (Reuters) U.S. authorities are investigating Steven A. Cohen's SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund for possible insider trading in the shares of the popular diet company Weight Watchers International Inc, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation focuses on trading in Weight Watchers shares in the first half of 2011, when SAC Capital had taken a sizeable position in the stock, and potentially could implicate the billionaire hedge fund manager, the sources said on Friday. Regulatory filings show that Cohen's $14 billion fund briefly held 2.1 million shares in Weight Watchers during the period under scrutiny by authorities - at which time the diet company's stock price roughly doubled. The inquiry is in its early stages and it is not clear whether anything improper was done either by SAC Capital or Cohen himself, said the people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity. The trading in Weight Watchers would be permissible as long as it was based on fundamental research or derived from individuals who did not have access to non-public corporate information. Big Money Bets On Housing Rebound (NYT) A flurry of private-equity giants and hedge funds have spent billions of dollars to buy thousands of foreclosed single-family homes. They are purchasing them on the cheap through bank auctions, multiple listing services, short sales and bulk purchases from local investors in need of cash, with plans to fix up the properties, rent them out and watch their values soar as the industry rebounds. They have raised as much as $8 billion to invest, according to Jade Rahmani, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods. The Blackstone Group, the New York private-equity firm run by Stephen A. Schwarzman, has spent more than $1 billion to buy 6,500 single-family homes so far this year. The Colony Capital Group, headed by the Los Angeles billionaire Thomas J. Barrack Jr., has bought 4,000. Wall Street workers expecting worst bonus season since 2008 (NYP) State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimates that the average bonus this year will be $101,000 — a 16.5 percent decline from last year and almost a 50 percent decline since 2006, when the average was $191,360. ‘‘I don’t think this year’s bonuses are going to be very good,’’ said Dan Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management. ‘‘I don’t believe the typical bonuses, as we used to know them, exist anymore.’’ Obama Meets with Boehner Privately at White House (Bloomberg) The meeting was the first known face-to-face conversation between the two leaders since Nov. 16, when Boehner and other congressional leaders sat down with Obama at the White House. They have talked on the telephone since then. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader, on Dec. 7. Investors offer about $38.8 billion in Greek debt buyback (Reuters) Greece is set to purchase back about half of its debt owned by private investors, broadly succeeding in a bond buyback that is key to the country's international bailout, a Greek government official said on Saturday. Hefner Husband Takes Insider Trading Into Playboy Bedroom (Bloomberg) Christie Hefner, [daughter of Hugh and] former chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said she was shocked as her husband of 15 years, William Marovitz, confessed to her that he was being investigated for suspicious trading in Playboy shares. They were in their apartment atop a 42-story Lincoln Park tower overlooking the glittering Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan on a March evening in 2010. “He told me he had been contacted by the SEC,” Hefner said later in testimony before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which didn’t accuse her of any wrongdoing. “And when did you learn your husband owned shares of Playboy?” she was asked. “In that conversation,” she replied. Hefner's husband is just one of more than 400 persons the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice have accused of insider trading in a crackdown in the last five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. All involved betrayal -- of clients, employers, relatives or friends. The Hefner episode and a handful of cases like it include an especially cruel breach of trust: betrayal of a wife by a husband. Tennis star Novak buys up world's supply of donkey cheese at £400 a pound for new restaurant chain (DM) The cheese, known as pule, will be one of the key attractions at a chain of restaurants the Wimbledon champion and world number one is opening in his Serbian homeland...The Zasavica farm, which lies 50 miles west of the Serbian capital Belgrade, boasts a herd of 130 and is said to be the only place in the world where donkeys are milked for cheese. Banking Industry Squirms Over European Rate Probe (WSJ) The scandal over banks' attempted manipulation of interest rates has mostly centered on the London interbank offered rate. But Libor's lesser known cousin, the euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, is facing mounting attacks. The European Union is expected soon to accuse multiple banks of attempted collusion in the setting of Euribor, according to people briefed on the probe. Barclays has already acknowledged trying to rig the rate, and other banks are likely to be pressed by regulators in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere into similar admissions, according to industry and regulatory officials. Mortgage Crisis Presents a New Reckoning to Banks (NYT) Regulators, prosecutors, investors and insurers have filed dozens of new claims against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and others, related to more than $1 trillion worth of securities backed by residential mortgages. Estimates of potential costs from these cases vary widely, but some in the banking industry fear they could reach $300 billion if the institutions lose all of the litigation. Depending on the final price tag, the costs could lower profits and slow the economic recovery by weakening the banks’ ability to lend just as the housing market is showing signs of life. Crisis Measure Nears End (WSJ) Barring action by Congress, the FDIC on Dec. 31 will stop providing an unlimited guarantee on zero-interest bank accounts used by businesses and municipalities for payroll and other services. The guarantee would then revert to the normal $250,000 in insurance per depositor at any given bank. If the guarantee isn't extended, FBR Capital Markets estimates as much as $250 billion in deposits could flow out of smaller banks to large banks or big money-market mutual funds. Stylish primate charms Toronto shoppers (The Star) A North York Ikea store attracted an unusual customer Sunday afternoon, when a tiny monkey dressed in a fitted faux shearling coat and diapers appeared in the store’s upper parking garage around 2 p.m. “It was just running around screaming,” said shopper Bronwyn Page...“It was really cute,” said Lisa Lin, another shopper. “It was smaller than a cat.” But if the monkey had hoped to stock up on Billy bookcases or Swedish meatballs, its plans were thwarted. The diminutive shopper never made it into the store, said manager Alvaro Carmona. No one was hurt in the incident, which lasted no more than half an hour, he added. Animal Services identified the monkey as a rhesus macaque, an Asian species that is prohibited in Ontario. The monkeys are known for their ability to live in diverse habitats – although Canadian winters obviously require a warm coat. The owner of the primate turned himself in to Animal Services just after 5 p.m. He was charged with owning a prohibited animal, an offence that carries a $200 fine. The seven-month-old monkey has somehow managed to escape his owner’s car in the Ikea parking lot, said animal control officer David Behan.

Opening Bell: 04.24.12

Dubai Debtors Go on Hunger Strike (FT) About 20 jailed foreign businessmen have gone on hunger strike in Dubai to protest against lengthy sentences for writing checks that bounced, a criminal offence in the United Arab Emirates. “I’ve exhausted every avenue that I can see,” Peter Margetts, 48, a former property developer, told the Financial Times from a prison pay phone. “I’ve exhausted the legal system, the lawyers have their hands tied here and they’re not going to rock the boat.” Mr. Margetts is one of three British prisoners who started a hunger strike on Sunday. Other jailed businessmen come from Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, India and Pakistan. Many of the hunger strikers fell victim to Dubai’s once-thriving real estate market, struggling to meet their payments when boom turned to bust in 2008. Twelve face sentences of more than 20 years because each bounced check can translate into a jail term of up to three years. Wall Street Promotes Junk Bonds as Europe Erupts (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley said last week that U.S. high-yield obligations were in a “sweet spot” as borrowers cut their debt loads. JPMorgan said junk yields will fall more than half a percentage point by year-end. Bank of America favors debentures rated in the middle tier of speculative grade. Gains on U.S. high-yield, high-risk bonds, which are little changed since the end of February, are set to accelerate as central banks respond more aggressively to contain Europe’s fiscal imbalances, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan said. While forecasting the default rate will rise this year, Moody’s Investors Service says the figure will stay below historic averages. Facebook's Growth Slows (WSJ) In what is likely to be the last snapshot of its financial condition before the expected May IPO, Facebook disclosed Monday that its first-quarter profit and revenue declined from the final quarter of 2011...The company's first-quarter revenue was $1.06 billion, down 6% from the December quarter. In a regulatory filing, the company blamed the decline on "seasonal trends" in the advertising business and user growth in markets where Facebook generates less revenue per user. CIT Group Swings To A Loss (WSJ) CIT Group, the business lender that emerged from bankruptcy more than two years ago, posted a wider-than-expected loss of $446.5 million in the first quarter as costs tied to debt repayments weighed on earnings. CIT's lending activity increased, though, and its profit margins on loans improved from a year earlier, a trend that should continue as its efforts to slash debt helps reduce its funding costs in the long run. "We made further progress this quarter positioning CIT for profitability and growth," John Thain, the long-time Wall Street executive who took the helm of CIT in 2010, said in a statement. Harbinger Pays Early (AP) Phil Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners made a $48 million payment on its $190 million loan from Jefferies Group, avoiding a forced sale of assets of his hedge fund, according to a person familiar with the fund. The payment was made a week early and a half million dollars more than what’s due on April 30. Falcone raised money for the loan by selling some investments, said the person. Father And Son Ran 'Brothel On Wheels' (NYP) A father and son from Queens ran a lucrative — and cruel — brothel on wheels for two decades, using six livery drivers to deliver hookers to hotels and apartments, Manhattan prosecutors said today in announcing the ring’s breakup...Johns on the go could purchase and enjoy a sex act without ever leaving the back seat, officials said of the operation, quoting the price scale at $200 to $500 per customer. Business was good — one woman alone allegedly earned half-a-million dollars for the father and son last year, and the Georges employed five women at the time of the bust, officials said. But as nice as they were to customers, the alleged father and son pimps were nasty to their prostitutes, threatening them, giving them little money so as to keep them helpless and even branding them with tattoos — including a bar code on one woman’s neck, according to officials. At least one of the women had a heart tattoo on her breast with the word “Vee,” which is the dad’s nickname. At least three of the women had tattoos featuring the son’s nickname, “King Koby.” Calpers Scalpers (NYP) The former head of the nation’s biggest pension defrauded funds run by private-equity titan Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management to pay a pal’s placement agencies $20 million, a lawsuit filed yesterday charged. Federico Buenrostro, the CEO of the $235 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System from 2002 to 2008, teamed up with buddy Alfred Villalobos’ Arvco Capital Research on a scheme to pocket the boatload of fees from Apollo, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged in a civil suit filed in a Nevada federal court. Villalobos was the deputy mayor of Los Angeles in 1993. It is charged that the two ginned up fake “disclosure letters” and sent them to Apollo, making it appear that Calpers OK’d the payment when, in fact, it had not. The two used the fake letters four times, the suit alleges. Judge: DA Can Subpoena Occupy Protester Tweets (NBC) A judge says an Occupy Wall Street protester can't stop prosecutors from getting his tweets as part of a case surrounding his arrest at a demonstration. A Manhattan criminal court judge ruled Friday there are reasonable grounds to believe the information is relevant. The judge also says Malcolm Harris can't legally challenge the subpoena sent to Twitter Inc., not him. Harris was among more than 700 demonstrators arrested Oct. 1 on the Brooklyn Bridge. Wal-Mart Said To Be Subject Of US Criminal Probe (Bloomberg) The Justice Department is investigating potential criminal charges under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to the person familiar with the probe who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about it. Wal-Mart is conducting its own review of allegations that its representatives paid local officials in Mexico to get stores opened faster in the early 2000s. Chris Christie Not Happy With NJ Nets Move To Brooklyn (NYDN) As the Nets were preparing their farewell, the Governor of New Jersey was kicking them out the door. “I’m not going to the Nets game tonight and my message to the Nets is ‘Goodbye,’ ” Christie said. “If you don’t want to stay, we don’t want you. Seriously, I’m not going to be in the business of begging people to stay here. That’s one of the most beautiful arenas in America that they’ve had a chance to play in. It’s in one of the country’s most vibrant cities. “They want to leave here and go to Brooklyn? Good riddance. See you later.”