Opening Bell: 12.19.16

Apple gears up for Europe tax war; Barclays dumps another 7,000 clients; meat pies in space; and more.
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Apple Goes to War With EU Over $14 Billion Tax Bill: 'A Misunderstanding of How Corporations Operate' (BI)

Apple was singled out because of its success, General Counsel Bruce Sewell said, directly attacking European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager's motivations. “Apple is not an outlier in any sense that matters to the law. Apple is a convenient target because it generates lots of headlines. It allows the commissioner to become Dane of the year for 2016,” he said, referring to the title accorded by a Danish newspaper to Vestager last month.

Wall Street’s Annual Stock Forecasts: Bullish, and Often Wrong (NYT)

The forecasts are still coming in for 2017, but preliminary tallies suggest that — no surprise — strategists are bullish, probably mildly so. Through last year, since 2000, the consensus has always been bullish, holding that the market would rise, on average, about 9.5 percent a year, according to calculations by Bespoke Investment Group. In reality, it rose only 3.9 percent a year, on average, in that period.

Barclays Severing Ties With Up to 7,000 Business Clients (BBG)

The British bank launched a new computer system called Flight Deck this month that ranks every customer of its trading unit by the return they generate on the firm’s capital, allowing Barclays to jettison those that have become a drag. Since 2014, the bank has culled 17,000 clients, and the new system has identified a further 7,000 that may need to go.

Goldman Warns China Outflows Rising in Both Yuan Payments, Forex (BBG)

China’s capital outflows are accelerating and the central bank is selling larger amounts of foreign exchange, Goldman Sachs warned as the yuan headed for its biggest annual decline in more than 20 years. A net $69.2 billion exited the nation in November, compared with a monthly pace of around $50 billion since June.

Digital Currency Sales Take Off, But With No Regulation Questions Abound (Reuters)

The market is still tiny, but it has been growing at breakneck pace. About $225 million has been raised so far this year in 40 initial coin offerings (ICOs), compared with just $9.8 million in 2015, data from crypto-currency research firm Smith + Crown showed.

Monte dei Paschi Set to Launch Share Sale (WSJ)

The bank needs to raise about €5 billion ($5.23 billion) in fresh capital by the end of the year to stay afloat. If it fails to do so, the Italian government will step in and bail out the bank, according to a Treasury official.

The Fed Is Staring At A Nasty Rate Dilemma In 2017 (FT)

In a world of global capital flows there will be a limit to how far US rates can diverge from global interest rates without triggering volatility in markets and a much stronger dollar that reduces exports. That will make it much more difficult to predict longer term where the Fed goes from here.

It’s Apparently Possible To Buy A Company Without Noticing (FT)

You have to wonder about the internal culture of a business where staff complete acquisitions and… just don’t tell anyone? Perhaps their email system has an over zealous spam filter? Or maybe the company is run by millennials who don’t check their voicemails. (Confirmation might have been sent by Snapchat and deleted before the CEO could remember what the message said!)

The Real Winner in Goldman’s Management Reshuffle (WSJ)

Just take a wild guess.

Soros, Fallibility, Reflexivity, and the Importance of Adapting (Enterprising Investor)

Unlike philosophy, where students can go to the teachings of Plato and Aristotle, there is no such canon for investors to access. Take a moment to think how financial markets have changed in the past century. The continuous, hyper-connected global markets of today would be nearly unrecognizable to traders back in the early 1900s.

Brits Attempt to Send Meat Pie to Space Because Who on Earth Wants to Eat Meat Pie (Gizmodo)

British cuisine is generally considered to be some of worst in the world. In fact, staff poll at the travel guide Lonely Planet crowned it as the most terrible swill on Earth. So why not send that shit toward space for science?

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Opening Bell: 11.15.12

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

Opening Bell: 07.31.12

RBS Braces Itself For Libor Deal (WSJ) RBS stands apart from the other banks caught up in a trans-Atlantic probe of the rate misdeeds because of the U.K. government's 83% stake in the lender. That has put U.K. authorities in an awkward position: They are under intense pressure to get tough on wayward banks but also are eager to protect the value of a taxpayer asset. Defendant in Insider Case: I Was Just Doing My Job (WSJ) Doug Whitman, a former hedge-fund manager, doesn't deny that he probed public companies for nonpublic information. But his criminal-defense team plans to argue that its client was doing exactly what he was supposed to do when he persuaded employees of public companies to give him information that those companies' top brass didn't want getting out. Mr. Whitman "was doing what every diligent, competent fund manager and analyst should do—checking up on companies' management to make sure they are being forthright with their investors," said David Anderson, Mr. Whitman's lead defense attorney, in an email. Tiger Management Helps Next Generation Funds (NYT) In a relatively young industry where stars can quickly fade, Tiger Management — and its myriad affiliates like Falcon Edge — is the closest thing to a hedge fund dynasty. After a brief career in finance, Mr. Robertson started Tiger in 1980 with seed money from friends and family. He regularly racked up double-digit returns by taking big positions in companies with good long-term growth prospects and aggressively betting against those stocks poised to fall. Mr. Robertson trained his young protégés — the so-called Tiger cubs — in the same tradition, creating the next generation of hedge funds stars. After leaving Tiger in 1993, Lee Ainslie started Maverick Capital, which currently manages roughly $10 billion. Stephen F. Mandel Jr. began Lone Pine Capital in 1997. Two years later, Andreas Halvorsen opened Viking Global. “We really gravitated to young people, and that was a great deal of our success,” said Mr. Robertson, 80, who often hired people in their 20s. “I was just an old goat with all these young geniuses around.” As the first wave of Tiger cubs age, they are breeding new funds, too. Blue Ridge Capital, where Mr. Gerson honed his skills, has been a particularly good incubator for talent. While Blue Ridge has subscribed to the long-term strategy of Tiger, the founder, Mr. Griffin, has infused the firm with his own philosophy. As a proponent of behavioral finance, he trained analysts like Mr. Gerson to identify how ego and emotion can affect the market and stock performance. Biggest Chapter Yet For A Poison Pen (WSJ) Daniel Loeb isn't one given to half-measures. The hedge-fund manager competes in triathlons, never, ever drinks from a plastic water bottle and is unsparing at times in his criticism of corporate executives. That is exactly how his investors like him. "I didn't give him the money to have a mellow Dan Loeb," said Hugh F. Culverhouse, a Miami investor whose family once owned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team. "If I want a mellow Dan Loeb, let me redeem."...The Yahoo campaign signals a new phase in Mr. Loeb's career. Until now, he was perhaps best-known for his poison-pen letters, in which he has scolded executives for everything from keeping relatives on the payroll to socializing at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Armed with a much bigger war chest—Third Point managed just $1.7 billion as of April 2009—Mr. Loeb can now aim for bigger targets. Mr. Loeb and his investors have a lot riding on a Yahoo revival. "If he makes money on his position, it will be good," said David Tepper, a fellow hedge-fund manager who has known Mr. Loeb for years. "If he doesn't make money, what is the point?" British man rescued off French Atlantic coast after being overcome with Olympic mania and trying to swim to America (DM) The unnamed 34 year old holidaymaker told his friends on the beach at Biarritz that he was off to New York to carry the Olympic spirit across the Atlantic. They thought he was joking but knowing that he was a strong swimmer decided to let him go telling him that a boat would come to rescue him if he got into difficulty. The man swam well beyond buoys 300 yards out to sea marking legal limits for bathing. Then, watched by lifeguards on the shore, he continued swimming until he was out of sight on his 3,594-mile journey. The lifeguards called out a helicopter and a diver dropped into the sea and explained to the man that it was not a good idea to swim across the Atlantic and advised him to head back towards France. He replied that he was a strong swimmer and felt up to it. At the same time lifeguards arrived in a rescue dinghy and threw the eccentric a line before towing him back to the beach. Laurent Saintespes, senior officer at Biarritz airbase told Agence France Presse, ‘He was a bit naive. But at a time when the Olympics are taking place in London you have to see the funny side of things’. Billionaire Jeff Greene On Democracy (NYM) Lately—like at a recent lunch with Steve Schwarzman, who has likened Obama to Hitler—Greene’s been trying another tactic. “Now I appeal to them selfishly,” he says. “ ‘Don’t you realize that if you don’t take care of this kid when they are 10 years old, you’ll take care of them when they are 20 and 100 instead? We just have to pay a little more taxes. It’s not going to kill us. You buy car insurance. Why not buy some democracy insurance?’ People think that Obama is this leftist, socialist guy,” he says. “But I don’t think they understand what people can go for when they are at the end of their line.” South Korean Youth Eschew Samsung Jobs For Facebook Dreams (Bloomberg) Not so long ago, South Korean students dreamed of lifetime jobs at Samsung Electronics Co. Now, many are shunning the juggernaut, intent on trying to emulate the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Sim Cheol Hwan, 27, is typical of the trend. He wants to take a break from college in Seoul to set up a company rather than line up for job interviews at Asia’s biggest electronics company paying an average of 77.6 million won ($68,300) a year. So he’s set himself up in his own business making apps for Samsung and Apple phones. “I don’t want to get a job at a top 10 Korean company,” said the Hanyang University engineering student, who spent two years in the military. “Zuckerberg’s success proves that there is a lot of money to be made” in startups. Regulators Target Day-Trading Firm (WSJ) In the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca, inside a garret up a narrow wooden staircase, four young men in T-shirts spend the day moving rapidly in and out of stocks, trying to ride their shifting momentum for profits. "It's very stressful," says one, dressed in a green T-shirt, blue shorts and Adidas sneakers. "The market is very hard to figure out." The four traders are part of a world-wide network initially set up by a Toronto-owned firm called Swift Trade Inc. Swift's founder, Peter Beck, turned it into one of the largest day-trading operations in the world over the past decade by aggressively expanding into far-flung locations, from China to Nicaragua to Romania, where he could recruit traders on the cheap. Mr. Beck also took an aggressive stance toward the law, say regulators in several countries where his firm has traded. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is expected on Tuesday to announce a settlement with Mr. Beck and an in-house brokerage unit for not establishing a supervisory system to prevent "a pattern of manipulative trading activity," according to a copy of the settlement reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The Best CFOs: A Wall Street Journal Ranking (WSJ) #16: Ann Marie Petach, BlackRock. Chewbacca costume head from ‘Star Wars’ sold for $172K (NYDN) A Chewbacca headpiece used in the original "Star Wars" trilogy sold for a whopping $172,200 at a movie memorabilia auction this weekend. The loyal and lovable walking carpet swept the competition, which included an "Edward Scissorhands" costume worn by Johnny Depp that sold for $86,100 and an Everlasting Gobstopper used in the 1971 movie "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" that sold for $49,200. The Chewie mask was described by auctioneer Profiles in History as the "finest full costume headpiece of Chewbacca from the original trilogy in private hands," and "the finest screen-correct Chewbacca costume head from the Star Wars trilogy known to exist." The eyes are actual casts of Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew's closed eyes, the auctioneer said. The expected price for the well-liked Wookie was between $60,000 and $80,000, plus fees and taxes, according to the auction catalog...Four years ago, someone spent a reported $240,000 to get the lightsaber prop used by actor Mark Hamill in the first two movies.

Opening Bell: 01.15.13

Westminster Hits At Goldman Sachs Bonus Plan (FT) Goldman Sachs provoked a furious reaction in Westminster after it emerged that the U.S. investment bank was mulling a plan to delay its U.K. bonus payments to take advantage of the imminent cut to the top rate of tax. John Mann, a Labour member of the Treasury select committee, criticized an "opportunistic money grab" by banks at a time of intensifying public anger against the sector. Some 10 banks had previously considered delaying bonuses until the top rate falls from 50 to 45 pence - although most have since concluded that this would be damaging. Chris Leslie, shadow Treasury minister, said banks needed to think carefully about their reputations. Fitch Warns Of US Downgrade Over Debt Fight (CNBC) In a statement Fitch said the debt ceiling was "an ineffective and potentially dangerous mechanism for enforcing fiscal discipline. It does not prevent tax and spending decisions that will incur debt issuance in excess of the ceiling while the sanction of not raising the ceilingrisks a sovereign default and renders such a threat incredible." Fitch Upbeat On Ireland (Reuters) If [Ireland's] debts could be shared out among euro zone states through the region's bailout mechanisms there could be scope for Ireland's BBB-plus rating to rise into the single-A category, according to Fitch analyst Douglas Renwick. "If there is an element of risk sharing, say perhaps through the ESM (European Stability Mechanism) over a bit of time, it could rise back to the single-A (range)," Renwick said. JPMorgan Ordered To Fix Lapses (WSJ) US regulators hit JPMorgan with four formal enforcement actions targeting lapses in risk-management and money-laundering controls, including the first sanctions in response to the bank's multibillion-dollar 2012 trading debacle. One set of cease-and-desist orders from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve instructs the largest U.S. bank by assets to remedy the breakdowns that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up more than $6 billion in losses last year. Another requires the bank to beef up its antimoney-laundering procedures and mirrors an action taken last April when regulators ordered Citigroup to upgrade its transaction-monitoring procedures and enhance internal audit. None of the orders issued Monday require any fines or monetary penalties, but regulators left the door open to future action. Wells Fargo Bets On Charlotte Trading After BofA Flees (Bloomberg) \Wells Fargo is betting its securities business can thrive 600 miles from New York in the same city Bank of America's traders largely abandoned. The first of 900 Wells Fargo employees moved last month into a new space on two floors of a 48-story tower in Charlotte, North Carolina. From their windows they can see the complex a half-mile away where Bank of America built its own state-of-the- art facility less than a decade ago for about 550 traders and investment bankers. Most have since been fired or moved to New York. Police: Teacher offers sexual favors to officer to avoid DUI arrest (WPBF) According to the arrest report, an empty gallon jug of Carlo Rossi wine was found behind the driver's seat of Maloney's damaged van, which was parked on the side of the street when officers arrived. Police said Maloney refused to cooperate with officers during their DUI investigation. Police said she began yelling at them and made random vulgar statements. While she was on her way to the police station, Maloney allegedly told an officer, "How much do I need to pay you to just let me go? Don't you understand I am a school teacher?" She then offered to perform oral sex on the officer and let him fondle her breasts, the report stated. RBS Libor Fine May Hit $800M+ (Bloomberg) US and UK regulators could hit the Royal Bank of Scotland with as much as $804 million in fines next week to settle allegations traders tried to rig interest rates, two people with knowledge of the matter said. Investment banking chief John Hourican and Peter Nielsen, the head of markets, may also be asked to leave because they had responsibility for the parts of the company where the alleged wrongdoing occurred. The fine would be the second-largest levied by regulators in their investigation into allegations traders at the world’s biggest lenders manipulated submissions used to set the London interbank offered rate. UBS AG, Switzerland’s biggest lender, was fined $1.5 billion in December for rate-rigging, exceeding the 290 million pounds Barclays paid in June. Bob Khuzami, Master Blaster (NYP) Robert Khuzami yesterday took aim at a Columbia University professor who chided the SEC’s head of enforcement for not suing enough high-ranking individuals at large financial institutions, choosing instead to settle with those companies...Khuzami said in a blistering 1,500-word article in the National Law Journal that the SEC has charged a total of 102 individuals associated with the credit crisis, including high-level executives at Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Bear Stearns, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...It’s the second time in as many weeks that Khuzami has called out his critics by name. Just before New Year’s Eve, the Brooklyn native blasted Simon Johnson, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, for a New York Times blog that said Khuzami’s hire was a “mistake” because of his former ties to Deutsche Bank. Khuzami shot back in the comment section of the blog — an unusual move for a public official. Wall Street Pay Gets Tougher Look (WSJ) Daniel Loeb, who runs hedge-fund firm Third Point LLC, has raised questions about whether compensation levels at Morgan Stanley are justified given the New York company's size and relative simplicity compared with larger bank. Hedge Funds' Manhattan Migration (WSJ) Of the new firms starting out in Manhattan, Greenwich or Stamford, about 86% picked the Big Apple, on average, from 2003 to 2008, according to eVestment, which tracks data on about 70% of U.S. hedge-fund firms. In 2009 and 2010, Manhattan was home to an average of 92% of the fund launches. Data for 2011 suggest the trend has continued. "There are blips in the data, but it's clear launches shifted toward New York after the crisis," says Peter Laurelli, eVestment's head of research. Detroit mafia boss says Jimmy Hoffa is buried in shallow grave north of Detroit (NYDN) Tony Zerilli, 85, says Hoffa was buried in a field outside Detroit, about 20 miles from the restaurant where he was last seen in July 1975. The aging Zerilli, who was in prison at the time of Hoffa’s disappearance, told TV news stations WNBC and WDIV that the plan was to move Hoffa’s body, but that never happened. “The master plan was, that I understood, was that they were going to put him in a shallow grave here. Then, they were going to take him from here to Rogers City upstate,” Zerilli said. “There was a hunting lodge and they were going to bury in a shallow grave then take him up there for final burial. Then, I understand, that it just fell through.” It was unclear why Zerilli chose to speak now about the 37-year-old mystery that has elicited dozens of false leads and conspiracy theories in the past. Zerilli said is to be ailing and penniless since his release from prison in 2008. WNBC reported he is promoting an upcoming book titled "Hoffa Found.” “All this speculation about where he is and he’s not,” Zerilli said. “They say he was in a meat grinder. It’s all baloney.”

Opening Bell: 07.10.12

Diamond To Forgo Deferred Bonuses (WSJ) Former Barclays Chief Executive Robert Diamond has given up bonuses of up to £20 million ($31 million) in an apparent effort to shield the lender as the bank looks to defuse anger following the rate-fixing scandal...According to Mr. Diamond's contract, he will receive up to 12 months' salary, pension allowance and other benefits. Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius said that this amounts to around £2 million. Paulson Funds Fell In June As Rally Undercut Euro Wager (Bloomberg) The $22 billion firm had losses in all its funds last month as stock markets rose. The losses were led by a 7.9 percent drop in his Advantage Plus Fund, according to an update to investors obtained by Bloomberg News. That leaves the fund, which seeks to profit from corporate events such as takeovers and bankruptcies and uses leverage to amplify returns, down 16 percent this year. Einhorn says Fed stimulus counterproductive (Reuters) "I think it's actually counterproductive," Einhorn said of the stimulus program, adding that it lowers the standard of living and drives up food and oil prices. He said he would suggest a rise in interest rates on U.S. Treasury bonds to "a reasonable level" of 2 to 3 percent. Einhorn said Apple, which he praised at this year's Ira Sohn investing conference, was "the best big-growth company we have." "We're two, three years into the Apple investment, and the way it seems headed it's likely we'll be there for a good while longer," he said. "I think the stock is very very substantially undervalued." He said Amazon.com Inc was "tough on its competitors" because it does not "feel the need to make a profit." "It's very hard to compete against somebody who doesn't feel the need to make a profit," he said, adding that he is not "short" Amazon. Investment Bankers Face Termination As Europe Fees Fall (Bloomberg) Credit Suisse and UBS face the most pressure to boost efficiency as that country runs ahead of others in introducing tougher capital and liquidity rules to curtail risk-taking, making some businesses unviable...While the situation may be most acute at the Swiss banks, similar dynamics are at work at other firms as the debt crisis drags on, capital requirements ratchet higher and economic growth grinds to a halt. “Bankers are really gloomy and a lot of people are worried about their jobs,” said Edward Cumming-Bruce, a partner at London-based advisory firm Gleacher Shacklock LLP who has more than 20 years’ experience. “Banks are under remorseless pressure to cut costs and balance sheets as we witness a significant change in the way the financial industry works.” Sitting for More Than Three Hours a Day Cuts Life Expectancy (WSJ) Sitting down for more than three hours a day can shave a person's life expectancy by two years, even if he or she is physically active and refrains from dangerous habits like smoking, according to a study to be published on Tuesday in the online journal BMJ Open. Watching TV for more than two hours a day can exacerbate that problem, decreasing life expectancy by another 1.4 years, said the report, which analyzed five underlying studies of nearly 167,000 people over a range of four to 14 years. Futures Broker Freezes Accounts (WSJ) Peregrine, based in Cedar Falls, Iowa, couldn't be reached for comment on the NFA action, but in an earlier statement to clients said "some accounting irregularities are being investigated regarding company accounts." "What this means is no customers are able to trade except to liquidate positions. Until further notice, PFGBEST is not authorized to release any funds," said PFGBest in its statement. Also in the statement, the firm said Russell R. Wasendorf Sr., its founder, chairman and chief executive, had experienced a "recent emergency" and described it as a "suicide attempt." A spokeswoman for PFGBest said Mr. Wasendorf was in critical condition in a hospital. Four Companies Break Through IPO Drought (WSJ) What do two fast-growing technology companies, an iconic guitar maker and a skin-infection specialist have in common? All four aim to break the latest dry spell in the IPO market. Fender Musical Instruments Corp., which has supplied guitars to rock artists from Buddy Holly to Kurt Cobain and John Mayer, network-security firm Palo Alto Networks Inc., travel website Kayak Software Corp. and pharmaceutical firm Durata Therapeutics Inc. said Monday that they plan to push ahead with initial public offerings in coming weeks. JPMorgan Silence On Risk Model Spurs Calls For Disclosure (Bloomberg) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is probing JPMorgan’s belated May 10 disclosure that a change to its mathematical model for gauging trading risk helped fuel the loss in its chief investment office. While the SEC would have to prove that the biggest U.S. bank improperly kept important information from investors, regulators probably will press Wall Street firms to tell more about the risks they’re taking, three former SEC lawyers said. Would You Stress Over A Millionaire Wife? (CNBC) The study, conducted by SEI and Phoenix Marketing, found that a third of the women who are the financial leads in millionaire households say their partner feels “stressed” by their financial roles. By contrast, only 14 percent of males in male-led millionaire households said they feel tension from their partner. Actor who kicked in doors to Ed Sullivan theater escapes jail time (NYDN) The struggling actor who kicked in the glass doors to the Ed Sullivan Theatre and urinated on the lobby floor last year got lucky with a no-jail sentence Monday. But he had to pay $7,377.28 in restitution. James Whittemore, 23, who now deejays in Massachusetts under the name DJ Nutron, never formally apologized to David Letterman face to face, but he said he'd like to..."Someone stole my iPhone, I quit my job, my girlfriend broke up with me, I was having a rough day," he said.

Opening Bell: 11.06.12

Europe, Central Bank Spar Over Athens Aid (WSJ) Greece faces a key Treasury-bill repayment in less than two weeks, and the money isn't there unless governments provide additional aid or the ECB agrees to lend Greek banks the money to roll over the debt. It is a particularly sensitive issue for the ECB, which is trying to create a credible financial backstop to hold the euro together while governments overhaul their economies and finances. But with each step the ECB takes to help Greece and others, it inches ever closer to rules that prevent it from printing money to help governments out of their debt problems. The bank is already facing accusations in Germany that it is straying from its primary mandate to keep inflation low. Iceland Sees Mortgage Bubble Threat From Foreign Cash (Bloomberg) Iceland’s lawmakers are searching for ways to keep their economy from lurching into another asset bubble as offshore investors forced to keep their money in the country channel it into the housing market. Apartment prices have soared 17 percent since April 2010 and are now just 1.7 percent below the pre-crisis peak in March 2008, Statistics Iceland estimates. The boom stems from currency restrictions imposed in 2008 to prevent the collapse of the Krona after the country’s biggest banks defaulted on $85 billion of debt. While those controls helped cauterize a capital exodus and propel a recovery, it left about $8 billion in offshore kronur that can only flow into Icelandic assets, inflating demand for housing and mortgage bonds. The government is now seeking to correct the imbalances, which risk plunging the island into yet another boom-bust cycle just four years after the banking industry dragged the economy through its worst recession since World War II. FBI Probes Rochdale Securities (NYP) The Stamford, Conn., broker dealer is teetering on the brink of extinction, the result of an unauthorized $1 billion purchase of Apple shares on Oct. 25, sources said. The trade of 1.6 million Apple shares was made — instead of a client’s order of one-tenth that amount, or 160,000 shares — to perpetuate the alleged stock manipulation scam, people familiar with the matter said...The alleged stock manipulation scam was being worked with at least one other unidentified trader not affiliated with Rochdale, sources said. Multiple sources said the alleged scam had already pocketed the traders roughly $20 million, sources said. Drop In Financial Deals Spurs One (WSJ) New York investment bank KBW made it through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but it couldn't outlast a drought in financial-services deal making. KBW, which struggled in recent years at the hands of a sharp slowdown in its core business—financial-industry merger advice—agreed be acquired by larger rival Stifel Financial for $575 million. Berkshire Cash Nears Record as Buffett Extends Deal Hunt (Bloomberg) Cash surged 17 percent to $47.8 billion in the three months ended Sept. 30, Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire said in its quarterly regulatory filing Nov. 2. That’s $115 million less than the record at the end of June 2011. “He’s elephant hunting,” said Jeff Matthews, author of “Secrets in Plain Sight: Business & Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett” and a Berkshire shareholder. “And there aren’t a lot of elephants around.” Did Wall Street Just Give Up On Romney? (NetNet) John Carney says yes: "On the eve of the election, many financial professionals on Wall Street believe that Mitt Romney has lost the election. In phone conversations, email and instant messaging exchanges, and text messages with over 20 people in different jobs on Wall Street today the message I picked up was almost universal: The president will be re-elected." Christie: Hug From Springsteen Made Me Weep (WaPo) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told reporters Monday that he had an unexpected — and moving — conversation earlier with his hero, Bruce Springsteen. He also got a hug from the rock legend on Friday, at a benefit concert for victims of Superstorm Sandy. He later cried, calling the moment a highlight in a tough week. “Bruce and I had an opportunity to chat for a while Friday night… we hugged and he told me, ‘it’s official, we’re friends,” Christie said at a news briefing. President Obama was on the phone with the Republican governor Monday, discussing storm damage, when he briefly handed the line over to Springsteen. The rock legend is traveling on Air Force One as he campaigns for the president. Before the storm Springsteen refused to acknowledge Christie, whose budget cuts he has criticized. But in the wake of the disaster, which hit the Jersey Shore particularly hard, he has started to embrace his ardent fan. HSBC Dirty Laundry Costs (Bloomberg) HSBC Holdings said it’s likely to face criminal charges from US anti-money-laundering probes, and the cost of a settlement may “significantly” exceed the $1.5 billion the bank has set aside. The lender has made an additional $800 million provision to cover a potential settlement, adding to the $700 million it had earmarked. A Senate committee said in July that failures in HSBC money-laundering controls allowed terrorists and drug cartels access to the US financial system. Bharara insider streak on line (NYP) With a 6-0 record in trial convictions against defendants caught in his insider-trading probe, Wall Street’s top cop Wednesday will kick off his final trial emanating from that investigation. Already the insider-trading probe has resulted in 68 convictions — including guilty pleas, the biggest Wall Street crackdown since the 1980s. Squaring off against Bharara in Manhattan federal court are two well-heeled hedge-fund defendants: Anthony Chiasson, founder of the $4 billion hedge fund Level Global, and Todd Newman, a former money manager with Diamondback Global. The beginning of jury selection was delayed more than a week because of Hurricane Sandy. Chiasson and Newman stand accused of reaping more than $60 million in profits from trading confidential tips about computer maker Dell and graphics firm Nvidia. 13 People Trying To Trade Gas For Sex On Craiglist (BuzzFeed) It was probably inevitable that the gas shortages in New York and New Jersey would lead to ads like "I've got gas from Hess and looking for any sexy woman who may not want to wait in those long lines for hours and hours only to find the station empty when it's their turn. So let me know, I'm sure we could work something out to get your tank filled and empty mine. Call or text."

Opening Bell: 09.11.12

Before Scandal, Class Over Control Of Libor (WSJ) At an April 25, 2008, meeting with officials at the Bank of England, Angela Knight, head of the British Bankers' Association, argued that the London interbank offered rate had become too big for her organization to manage, according to minutes of the meeting and a person who was there. Her suggestion went nowhere. Even as Libor's deep flaws became apparent, regulators resisted a greater oversight role, the BBA's member banks clung to control of Libor, and BBA executives bickered with one another over whether to hang onto the lucrative business, according to people who were involved and a Wall Street Journal review of hundreds of pages of emails, meeting minutes and other documents. Treasury Sells Big Chunk Of AIG Stock (WSJ) The Treasury sold about 554 million shares to the public at $32.50 apiece for a total of $18 billion in one of the biggest global follow-on stock offerings since the financial crisis. The offering was the Treasury's fifth sale of AIG stock since early last year and reduced the government's stake in the company to about 22% from 92% in early 2011. The price set Monday was above the government's cost basis of $28.73 a share, meaning taxpayers will earn a profit on the sale. New iPhone could boost U.S. GDP by up to 0.5 percent, JP Morgan says (Reuters) "Calculated using the so-called retail control method, sales of iPhone 5 could boost annualized GDP growth by $3.2 billion, or $12.8 billion at an annual rate," Feroli wrote. That 0.33 percentage-point boost, he added, "would limit the downside risk to our Q4 GDP growth protection, which remains 2.0 percent." Feroli laid out his math. J.P. Morgan's analysts expect Apple to sell around 8 million iPhone 5s in the fourth quarter. They expect the sales price to be about $600. With about $200 in discounted import component costs, the government can factor in $400 per phone into its measure of gross domestic product for the fourth quarter. Feroli said the estimate of between a quarter to a half point of annualized GDP "seems fairly large, and for that reason should be treated skeptically." But, he added, "we think the recent evidence is consistent with this projection." Geithner Holds His Own on Triathlon Front (Dealbook) Geithner participated in the 7th annual Nation’s Triathlon to Benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on Sunday, swimming, biking and running his way through the nation’s capital. The race involved a 1.5-kilometer swim in the Potomac River, a 40-kilometer bike ride through the city and a 10-kilometer run. And Mr. Geithner, 51, can boast of a pretty good finish to his race, completing the course in 2:33:07. He placed ninth in his division, men aged 50 to 54, according to the race’s Web site. Individually, he completed the swim in 29:10, the bike ride in 1:13:52 and the run in 45:51. New Yorker Cartoon Dept Temporarily Banned From Facebook For Violating ‘Nudity And Sex’ Standards (Mediaite) In a post entitled “Nipplegate,” the New Yorker‘s cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff, detailed how the magazine’s cartoon department became temporarily banned on Facebook: a particular Mick Stevens cartoon violated the social networking site’s community standards on “Nudity and Sex.” Stevens redrew the cartoon, he said, “but the gain in clothes caused too great a loss in humor.” He then noted that Facebook has different standards when it comes to males and females. As “the guidelines say, ‘male nipples are ok.’ It’s the ‘female nipple bulges’ that are the problem.” Big Banks Hide Risk Transforming Collateral for Traders (Bloomberg) JPMorgan and Bank of America are helping clients find an extra $2.6 trillion to back derivatives trades amid signs that a shortage of quality collateral will erode efforts to safeguard the financial system. Starting next year, new rules designed to prevent another meltdown will force traders to post U.S. Treasury bonds or other top-rated holdings to guarantee more of their bets. The change takes effect as the $10.8 trillion market for Treasuries is already stretched thin by banks rebuilding balance sheets and investors seeking safety, leaving fewer bonds available to backstop the $648 trillion derivatives market. The solution: At least seven banks plan to let customers swap lower-rated securities that don’t meet standards in return for a loan of Treasuries or similar holdings that do qualify, a process dubbed “collateral transformation.” That’s raising concerns among investors, bank executives and academics that measures intended to avert risk are hiding it instead. Soros: Germany going into depression in 6 months (MarketWatch) The recession in Europe will spread to Germany, the euro-zone's largest economy, within six months, said George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management. "The policy of fiscal retrenchment in the midst of rising unemployment is pro-cyclical and pushing Europe into a deeper and longer depression," Soros said in prepared remarks for a speech in Berlin Monday. "That is no longer a forecast; it is an observation. The German public doesn't yet feel it and doesn't quite believe it. But it is all too real in the periphery and it will reach Germany in the next six months or so." Lindsay Lohan encourages President Obama to slash taxes for 'Forbes millionaires' (DM) In a tweet fired off on Friday, the 26-year-old actress encouraged President Barack Obama to consider lowering taxes for the one-percenters listed on the Forbes Magazine’ millionaires’ list. Lohan, who has been very active on Twitter recently, was responding to a message posted by the Obama campaign following his Thursday speech at the Democratic National Convention. ‘I’ve cut taxes for those who need it: middle-class families, small businesses,’ the tweet read. About 10 minutes later, the star of the upcoming Elizabeth Taylor biopic ‘Liz and Dick’ put in her two cents on the issue of tax cuts: ‘We also need to cut them for those that are listed on Forbes as "millionaires" if they are not, you must consider that as well,’ her late-night message read. Gross Says Age of Credit Expansion Led Fund Returns Over (Bloomberg) Gross’s outlook follows his commentary last month, which sparked debate among investors and analysts after he declared that the “cult of equity” was dying. In his August comments, he compared long-term returns from equities to a “Ponzi scheme” and said returns of 6.6 percent above inflation, known as the Siegel Constant, won’t be seen again. “Our credit-based financial system is burdened by excessive fat and interest rates that are too low,” Gross wrote. “Central banks are agog in disbelief that the endless stream of” liquidity pumped into the banking sector has not stimulated lending, Gross wrote. Queen's Corgi Buried At Balmor (TDB) The dog, Monty was involved in a fight recently when he was one of a number of dogs which attacked Princess Beatrice's terrier Max over the summer, but it appears the fight - Max came off worst and nearly lost an ear in the fracas - was not a contributory cause of death. Buckingham Palace is not officially revealing how or when the corgi, named Monty (after the American horse whisperer Monty Roberts who has advised the queen on dogs and horses) met his end, but palace sources told the Royalist the animal passed away of old age over the summer. The animal died at the Royal Scottish residence of Balmoral, where, in accordance with tradition, he has been buried in the Royal pet cemetery opened by Queen Victoria when her beloved Collie, Noble, died there in 1887...the Queen is known to take the deaths of her pets hard: Lady Pamela Hicks, the mother of India Hicks once wrote a note when one of the Queen’s corgis died and received a six-page letter back.

Opening Bell: 03.22.12

Goldman conducts company-wide email review (Reuters) Goldman Sachs Group Inc has begun scanning internal emails for the term "muppet" and other evidence that employees referred to clients in derogatory ways, Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein told partners in a conference call this week, according to people familiar with the call...It was not clear when the search would be completed or what actions, if any, Goldman would take if the search turns up derogatory comments. Jobless Claims in U.S. Fall to Lowest Level in Four Years (Bloomberg) Jobless claims decreased by 5,000 to 348,000 in the week ended March 17, the fewest since February 2008, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 46 economists in a Bloomberg News survey projected 350,000. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls and those getting extended payments also fell. ‘Worst Still to Come’ for Europe Says Citi Economist (CNBC) Despite high-profile measures such as the Greek debt deal and mass pumping of liquidity into the banking system, Europe’s problems have merely been delayed for another day, Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citi, told CNBC. “We have really just paused for breath,” he said. “It (the long-term refinancing operation) really hasn’t solved the problem, and for Europe the worst is still to come.” On Wall St., Keeping a Tight Rein on Twitter (Dealbook) So a cottage industry has emerged. Adept start-ups act as guides on Wall Street’s social media adventure, providing the software that helps firms comply with regulations that date to a sleepier era of communication. “Here they were, these organizations that had never used the social networks because they had completely locked down access,” said Chad Bockius, the chief executive of Socialware, a start-up based in Austin, Tex., that advises financial firms on social media. “This is the same thing we saw when people started to use the Internet for business purposes.” Mr. Bockius, 35, says his company was the first to offer social media compliance products for the financial industry. Socialware sells software that can archive messages, house a library of prewritten content and allow compliance officers to oversee postings. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, which Mr. Bockius holds up as one of his most enterprising clients, gave about 600 of its 17,800 financial advisers access to Twitter and LinkedIn last summer, and now plans to expand those ranks. “We’re trailblazing, so to speak,” said Lauren W. Boyman, who runs social media at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. “Even with the restrictions that we have, we’ve seen a lot of success.” John Edwards is First Name Uncovered in 'Millionaire Madam' Investigation (DNAI via Daily Intel) Edwards allegedly hooked up with one of Gristina’s high-end hookers in 2007 when the dashing pol from North Carolina brought his then high-flying presidential campaign to the Big Apple. The one-night fling allegedly took place at an Upper East Side hotel suite and was arranged by an aide with help from a New Yorker familiar with Gristina’s prostitution ring, sources said...“Most of the women don’t have any idea about the identities of the men they sleep with,” a source explained. “How would they know a money man from Wall Street or the face of a lawyer or banker who shows up? “But the face of the national politician?” the source rhetorically asked. “She knew.” Volcker Says U.S. Needs Reforms in Finance, Government (Bloomberg) “It is not only our economic prosperity that’s in jeopardy, but our national security and our ability to play a constructive role in a changing world,” said Volcker, 84. Volcker said that progress has been made toward improving financial regulatory oversight, capital and liquidity standards and rules for derivatives. He said more needed to be done to regulate money market mutual funds, which he called “a new systemic risk,” and to rebuild a private market for home mortgages to replace the government-sponsored entities that dominate the business. “The reform report card still reads, ‘Promising but definitely incomplete,’” Volcker said. More Wings, Please — Signs Small Biz Is Improving (AP) Some diners at Hurricane Grill & Wings had been limiting themselves to a small order of the chain's saucy chicken wings and a glass of tap water. These days, many of those people are upgrading to a bigger order of as many as 15 wings and a soda. For Hurricane Grill, which sells its wings in more than 30 varieties of sauces, the larger plates and the sodas are a sign that customers are OK about spending a little more when they go out to eat. The evidence may not be a big economic report like gross domestic product or factory orders in a region, but small businesses have their own indicators that the economy is improving. Rich Would Skirt 'Buffett Rule' Report Shows (WSJ) The administration's proposal to end the Bush-era tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000 would raise about $850 billion over the next decade. Mr. Obama also wants to limit the value of many deductions for families making more than $250,000. That would raise a further $584 billion over the decade. But millionaires likely would find legal ways to avoid paying higher taxes under another of Mr. Obama's new tax proposals, his so-called "Buffett Rule," a separate congressional estimate found. The proposal—spelled out in Mr. Obama's State of the Union address but not included in his budget—would impose a 30% minimum tax rate on those who make more than $1 million a year. It's named for the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who advocates higher taxes on the very wealthy. Taxpayers' likely efforts to sidestep the rule's impact mean it would raise about $47 billion in extra revenue over the next decade, according to a new estimate by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional advisory body that functions as the official congressional scorekeeper for legislation affecting government tax revenues. The Tax Policy Center had estimated the Buffett rule would raise about $114 billion over the next decade. Monster titanoboa snake invades New York (AP) New York commuters arriving at Grand Central Station will soon be greeted by a monstrous sight: a 48-foot-long, 2,500-pound titanoboa snake. The good news: It's not alive. Anymore. But the full-scale replica of the reptile -- which will make its first appearance at the commuter hub on March 22 -- is intended, as Smithsonian spokesperson Randall Kremer happily admitted, to "scare the daylights out of people" -- actually has a higher calling: to "communicate science to a lot of people." The scientifically scary-accurate model will go a long way toward that: If this snake slithered by you, it would be waist-high and measure the length of a school bus. Think of it as the T-rex of snakes.

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.