Opening Bell: 1.27.17

Ackman tries subtlety for a change; hedge funds hit paydirt tracking planes; at least one Burger King has a secret weed menu; and more.
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Humbled Ackman plays coy about two behemoth buys (NYP)

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The Pershing Square founder invested roughly $436 million, or 4 percent of his fund’s $12 billion capital, in late 2016 in one investment. The second, larger investment, totaling roughly 9 percent of his capital, or $981 million, was made in early 2017. Discretion is a rare move for Ackman, who is known to make media rounds and prepare several-hundred-page slide shows detailing his activist plays.

Hedge Funds Strike Paydirt on Actelion Deal After Tracking J&J's Jet (BBG)

Burned by failed deals, poor returns and client withdrawals, hedge fund managers needed a home run. With each passing day last week, as a Johnson & Johnson corporate jet remained mostly parked a short drive from Actelion Ltd. headquarters near Basel, Switzerland, they grew increasingly confident of a big score, according to hedge fund managers betting on the deal who tracked the plane’s movements on the Internet.

Kushner’s Felon Father Back At Helm Of New York Empire With Two Fellow Inmates (BBG)

It’s hard to find work right out of prison. But Avram Lebor and Richard Goettlich walked from their Alabama penitentiary into top jobs at the real estate company then run by Jared Kushner, now President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. The two men, convicted in separate sprawling fraud schemes, were hired several years ago by his father, Charles Kushner, who had been locked up in the same federal prison with them.

Elon Musk Has Trump’s Ear, and Wall Street Takes Note (NYT)

Adam Jonas, a prominent automotive analyst at Morgan Stanley, upgraded Tesla stock to overweight last week, with a target price of $305 a share. (It was trading this week at about $255.) He said that the “strategic relationship between Tesla leadership and the new administration is an important development” in his decision to upgrade Tesla stock.

Jilting Jefferies Said to Cost Credit Suisse Bankers $10 Million (BBG)

talent war between Jefferies Group LLC and Credit Suisse Group AG is threatening to escalate. Five Credit Suisse bankers who reneged on agreements to join Jefferies this month may face demands that they pay more than $10 million to their scorned suitor, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Alexa, Stop Making Life Miserable for Anyone With a Similar Name! (WSJ)

Apple Inc. picked “Siri.” Microsoft Corp. chose “Cortana.” ( Alphabet Inc.’s Google opted to keep its software nonhuman, calling it “Assistant.”) Amazon.com Inc.’s choice, as it happens, was the 39th most popular girl’s name in the U.S. in 2006. “I always liked my name, until Amazon gave it to a robot,” says Alexa Sussman, a recent New York University graduate who works in marketing.

UBS Misses Out on the Trump Bump (Gadfly)

Pessimists might now call into question the bank's decision to scale back in fixed income and focus on serving rich clients now that interest rates are rising and President Donald Trump is preparing to slash red tape for Wall Street. UBS shares are down slightly over the past year -- trailing gains of 12 percent at Deutsche Bank AG and 26 percent at Barclays Plc.

Stanford historian uncovers a grim correlation between violence and inequality over the millennia (Stanford)

What price do we pay for civilization? For Walter Scheidel, a professor of history and classics at Stanford, civilization has come at the cost of glaring economic inequality since the Stone Age. The sole exception, in his account, is widespread violence – wars, pandemics, civil unrest; only violent shocks like these have substantially reduced inequality over the millennia. “It is almost universally true that violence has been necessary to ensure the redistribution of wealth at any point in time.”

A Burger King Was Allegedly Selling Weed to Customers Who Asked for 'Extra Crispy Fries' (VICE)

It's not clear how long the pair was running their side hustle before police in the town of Epping—population 6,144—caught on. Last Saturday, an undercover cop pulled up to the restaurant, asked if "Nasty Boy" was working, and then placed his order with a side of extra crispy fries. Norris then reportedly gave the guy his Whopperito or whatever, along with a coffee cup full of pot.

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Opening Bell: 04.18.13

Morgan Stanley Sees Core Earnings Weaken (WSJ) Morgan Stanley saw core earnings weaken, although the investment bank swung to a first-quarter profit as it benefited from a comparison with a year-earlier period bogged down by a heavy charge. For the quarter, the bank reported a profit of $984 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $94 million. The per-share profit, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 49 cents compared with a loss of six cents a year earlier. The latest period featured a decline in fixed-income trading revenue, but strong stock trading and continued improvements in Morgan Stanley's wealth-management division, which was buoyed by strong markets. ... Revenue jumped 18% to $8.16 billion. Excluding debt valuation, revenue was $8.48 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently expected earnings, excluding debt-valuation adjustments, of 57 cents, on revenue of $8.35 billion. Blackstone First-Quarter Profit Rises on Fund Performance (Bloomberg) Blackstone Group LP (BX), the world’s biggest buyout firm, said first-quarter profit rose 28 percent as market gains lifted the carrying value of its holdings. Economic net income, a measure of earnings excluding some costs tied to the firm’s 2007 initial public offering, increased to $628.3 million, or 55 cents a share, from $491.2 million, or 44 cents, a year earlier, New York-based Blackstone said today in a statement. Analysts had expected earnings of 53 cents a share, according to the average of 15 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Barclays Head of Investment Banking Rich Ricci to Retire in June (Bloomberg) Barclays Plc’s Rich Ricci, the head of investment banking and one of the last members of former Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond’s management team, will retire at the end of June. Ricci, 49, will be replaced by Eric Bommensath and Tom King, 52, as co-chief executive officers of corporate and investment banking in May, the London-based bank said in a statement today. “The market will see this as an inevitable and appropriate piece of transitioning,” said Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec Plc (INVP) in London. “Few tears will be shed and the reshuffle will be broadly welcomed.” Special Report: The battle for the Swiss soul (Reuters) A sign on display in UBS's museum, from a bank founded in 1747 in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, could almost be Switzerland's mantra: "MASSIMA DISCREZIONE" it promises. Swiss bankers have long adhered to an unwritten code similar to that observed by doctors or priests. Bankers do not acknowledge clients in public for fear of exposing them as account holders; they often carry business cards with just a name, rather than bank or contact details; and, at least until the 1990s, they never advertised abroad. ... Even today, few Swiss like to discuss the fact that much of the country's prosperity was built on bankers helping foreigners evade taxes. Visitors should avoid personal questions, advises Communicaid, a consultancy which advises businesses on cross-cultural awareness. It would also be wise to steer clear of discussing "Swiss banks, money or Switzerland's military role in World War One or Two." Reinhart/Rogoff and Growth in a Time Before Debt (RortyBomb via Felix Salmon) Here is a simple question: does a high debt-to-GDP ratio better predict future growth rates, or past ones? If the former is true, it would be consistent with the argument that higher debt levels cause growth to fall. On the other hand, if higher debt "predicts" past growth, that is a signature of reverse causality. ... As is evident, current period debt-to-GDP is a pretty poor predictor of future GDP growth at debt-to-GDP ratios of 30 or greater—the range where one might expect to find a tipping point dynamic. But it does a great job predicting past growth. Ottawa sets up taxpayer-funded food truck in Mexico to promote Canadian cuisine (National Post) When author Anita Stewart first heard about the Canadian government’s new food truck parked in Mexico City, she laughed so hard she cried. The new Canada-branded, taxpayer-funded venture, which kicked off its three-week pilot project last week, is serving up a Mexican-ized version of poutine, using Oaxaca cheese instead of curds. Also on the menu are Alberta beef tourtière, and maple-glazed Albacore tuna. China Vows Wider Yuan Movement (WSJ) China's central bank plans to widen the yuan's trading band in the near future, People's Bank of China Vice Governor Yi Gang said Wednesday, suggesting that China's leaders will press ahead with change despite the surprise slowing of the economy. "The exchange rate is going to be more market-oriented," Mr. Yi said on a panel at the International Monetary Fund spring meetings in Washington. "I think in the near future we are going to increase the floating band even further." IMF warns on risks of excessive easing (FT) Extraordinarily loose monetary policy risks sparking credit bubbles that threaten to tip the world back into financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday. In its global financial stability report, the fund cautioned that policy reforms were needed urgently to restore long-term health to the financial system before the long-term dangers of monetary stimulus materialised. German Parliament Approves Bailout for Cyprus (WSJ) German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called the vote a "strong signal" by Germany in favor of the euro and the euro zone. The parliament also voted in favor of a seven-year extension of the maturity on European Financial Stability Facility loans for Ireland and Portugal with a large majority. SEC to Move Past Financial Crisis Cases Under New Chairman White (Bloomberg) Mary Jo White, the first former prosecutor to serve as chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, has pledged to run a “bold and unrelenting” enforcement program at the agency charged with regulating Wall Street. With financial crisis cases mostly done and some of the biggest insider-trading cases in history closed, White will have to chart a course into new areas to keep that pledge. White, who was sworn in last week, has already provided a few signals about what that might be. During her Senate confirmation hearing, she said she intends to focus on high- frequency and automated trading. She has also raised questions about a drop in the number of accounting fraud cases the agency has brought in recent years. Dispute in Hamptons Set Off by Effort to Hold Back Ocean (NYT) Soon after Hurricane Sandy hit last fall, Joshua Harris, a billionaire hedge fund founder and an owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, began to fear that his $25 million home on the water in Southampton might fall victim to the next major storm. So he installed a costly defense against incoming waves: a shield of large metal plates on the beach, camouflaged by sand. His neighbor, Mark Rachesky, another billionaire hedge fund founder, put up similar fortifications between his home and the surf. Chris Shumway, who closed his $8 billion hedge fund two years ago, trucked in boulders the size of Volkswagens. Across a section of this wealthy town, some residents, accustomed to having their way in the business world, are now trying to hold back the ocean. ‘Elvis’ is busted in ricin terror (NYP) The FBI last night busted a troubled Mississippi Elvis impersonator as the poison-wielding man who mailed ricin-laced letters to President Obama and two other officials. ... Despite his rock ’n’ roll hobby, Curtis shows his angry side on Facebook, where he lashes out in a conspiracy-filled rant. “I’m on the hidden front lines of a secret war,” he wrote. “They burned down my home, killed my dogs, my cat, my rabbit, blew up my 1966 Plymouth Valiant . . . and guess what? I am still a thorn in their corrupt anals! I will remain here until Jesus Christ decides it’s time for me to go.”

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Opening Bell: 8.23.17

Herbalife readies finishing move on Bill Ackman; Goldman plans finishing move on Volcker rule; firefighters feast on piglets they saved from fire; and more.

Opening Bell: 02.12.13

Obama Address to Focus on Economy, Social Issues (WSJ) President Obama's chief spokesman, Jay Carney, said Monday the core emphasis in the president's big speeches remains the same: "The need to make the economy work for the middle class, because the middle class is the engine that drives this country forward and which will, if it's given the right tools and the right opportunities, will drive us forward in the 21st century." Republicans welcome the president's expected focus on the economy, but also say he hasn't done enough. "The White House says they're talking about jobs and the economy. I welcome that engagement," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said in an interview Sunday. "It seems as if the president is constantly trying to pivot back to jobs and the economy. The reason you see that happening is he's never pursued it." Mr. Obama will also address a series of automatic spending cuts set to kick in March 1—the so-called sequester—which could threaten economic growth, national—security preparation and the jobs of thousands of federal employees. Mr. Obama has called on Congress to pass a temporary measure of spending reductions and new taxes to replace the across-the-board cuts. Barclays to Cut 3,700 Jobs After Full-Year Loss (Bloomberg) Barclays Plc will cut 3,700 jobs to reduce annual costs by 1.7 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) as Chief Executive Officer Antony Jenkins revamps the lender following its first full-year loss in two decades. About 1,800 positions will go this year at the firm’s investment bank and 1,900 in its loss-making European consumer and business banking unit, Jenkins said in a statement today. The lender posted a net loss of 1.04 billion pounds for 2012, wider than the 307 million-pound estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, as it set aside an additional 1 billion pounds in the fourth quarter for compensating clients wrongly sold interest-rate swaps and loan-repayment insurance. BNY Mellon loses U.S. tax case, to take $850 million profit hit (Reuters) BNY Mellon Corp said on Monday it will take an $850 million charge against first-quarter profit after losing a high-stakes tax case to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, a move that will also erode some of its capital. The BNY Mellon case was the first to go to trial since the IRS accused several U.S. banks of generating artificial foreign tax credits through loans with London-based Barclays. The IRS challenged a $900 million tax benefit claimed by BNY Mellon that stemmed from a $1.5 billion loan from Barclays. The funding was so cheap that at one point Barclays actually paid BNY Mellon to take Barclays' money, according to court papers. Nasdaq Steps Up Pursuit Of A Partner (WSJ) Nasdaq, long on the hunt for a partner, has ramped up its conversations about strategic options ranging from joint ventures to a sale, according to people familiar with the talks, as rival NYSE Euronext moves ahead with a merger that will form an even-bigger competitor. Twinkie Brand Heads For Sale (WSJ) Judge Robert Drain of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, N.Y., cleared Hostess on Monday to proceed with several of the sale processes it has unveiled during the past several weeks. Private-equity firms Apollo Global Management LLC and Metropoulos & Co. are now officially set to kick off the contest for most of the Hostess cakes business, with a $410 million offer for brands such as Twinkie, Dolly Madison, Ho Hos and Ding Dongs. That so-called "stalking horse," or lead, bid also covers five bakeries and certain equipment. McKee Foods Corp., the maker of Little Debbie snack cakes, is the stalking-horse bidder for Hostess's Drake's brand. The $27.5 million offer from McKee, based in Collegedale, Tenn., doesn't include the Drake's plant in New Jersey. Tesla CEO Clashes With New York Times Over Model S Review (Bloomberg) Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc. said a range test of the Model S electric sedan by the New York Times was “fake” as the reporter didn’t disclose all the details of his drive. “NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake,” Musk said in a Twitter post yesterday. “Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.” The Times on Feb. 8 published a story by John M. Broder on its website detailing how the Model S he drove failed to meet the electric sedan’s 300-mile (483-kilometer) range “under ideal conditions” while driving in temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-12 Celsius). The Times also published a blog post by Broder about the test-drive on the same day, detailing his plan to use Tesla’s new “supercharger” stations. Broder followed instructions he was given in “multiple conversations with Tesla personnel,” Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said in an e-mail message. The story was “completely factual, describing the trip in detail exactly as it occurred,” Murphy said. “Any suggestion that the account was ‘fake’ is, of course, flatly untrue.” Dispute over mashed potatoes turns dangerous (TBN) A disagreement over mashed potatoes turned dangerous over the weekend when a victim said tempers escalated and a woman came at her with box cutters. Shaquina S. Hill, 23, of Fourth Street was charged with second-degree menacing and second-degree harassment as a result, city police said. An 18-year-old woman told police she and Hill argued about mashed potatoes just before 9 p.m. Sunday at a Fourth Street address, and things escalated from there. The younger woman told police Hill grabbed box cutters and waved them at her, then dropped the knife and started throwing things at her, including a heavy ceramic vase and coffee table. She told police Hill also punched her in the chest. U.K. Regulator to Investigate Autonomy (WSJ) The Financial Reporting Council, the regulator tasked with promoting good corporate governance and financial reporting in the U.K., announced the investigation Monday on its website. It said the probe will look at Autonomy accounts published between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2011. New York fund manager arrested on Ponzi scheme charges (Reuters) Federal prosecutors charged Jason Konior, 39, with defrauding investors by promising to match their investments in his fund, Absolute Fund LP, many times over. Prosecutors said he used $2 million of the money he collected from three hedge funds to pay his own expenses and cover redemption requests from prior investors, according to the criminal complaint dated February 7. Treasury’s Brainard Says G-20 Must Refrain From Devaluation (Bloomberg) “The G-20 needs to deliver on the commitment to move to market-determined exchange rates and refrain from competitive devaluation,” Lael Brainard, the Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs, said at a news conference in Washington today. Brainard said “global growth is weak and vulnerable to the downside,” and strengthening demand must be a top priority for G-20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting in Moscow Feb. 15-16. Ex-Fund Manager Avoids Jail Time (WSJ) The cooperation of Ali Far, co-founder of Spherix Capital LLC, led to the convictions of at least five people, including Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam, prosecutors said. Mr. Rajaratnam, who was convicted on conspiracy and securities-fraud charges, is serving an 11-year prison sentence, one of the longest terms ever imposed for insider trading. Mr. Far secretly agreed to cooperate with the government's probe shortly after he was approached by federal agents in April 2009, prosecutors said. Mr. Far, a former Galleon employee, recorded about 244 calls, including calls with Mr. Rajaratnam, prosecutors said. He also was prepared to testify at Mr. Rajaratnam's trial as a government witness in 2011 but was never called, they said. "I am truly sorry for my mistakes and I am ashamed," Mr. Far said at a hearing in Manhattan federal court Monday. U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson sentenced Mr. Far to one year's probation. He also imposed a $100,000 fine. The Perils of Being A Dog Show Judge (WSJ) Cindy Vogels had a litter of options for Best in Show at last year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. As the final judge, she could have chosen a German Shepherd, a Doberman pinscher or even a Dalmatian. Instead she picked a Pekingese named Malachy—and everyone else judged her. One person, Vogels said, called the Pekingese "that awful dog." Vogels recalled another saying: "Why would you give Best in Show to the dog that couldn't walk?" "The American public was horrified," Vogels said. "The public has no appreciation for a Pekingese." It is the ultimate honor for a show judge to name the Best in Show winner at Westminster, the year's glitziest dog show, which concludes Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. But it also can bring out the worst in people. The math behind this logic is basic: There are 187 breeds, only seven will win their groups and just one will win the opinion of Michael Dougherty, the Best in Show judge on Tuesday. "You go in there alone," said Elliott Weiss, the 2010 Best in Show judge, "and you come out alone."

Opening Bell: 04.19.12

Morgan Stanley Beats Estimates as Trading Gain Tops Peers (Bloomberg) The net loss of $94 million, or 6 cents a share, compared with profit of $968 million, or 50 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Excluding accounting charges tied to the firm’s own credit spreads, profit was 71 cents a share, topping the 44-cent average estimate of 17 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Fixed-income trading revenue surged 34 percent, surpassing the 19 percent gain at Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s drop of more than 15 percent, excluding accounting adjustments. Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman, 53, has set a goal of 15 percent return on equity after lingering pressures from the financial crisis held that measure below 10 percent for five straight years. First-quarter return on equity was 9.2 percent. BofA Profit Falls But Beats Estimates (WSJ) The bank reported a profit of $653 million, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.05 billion. Per-share earnings, which reflect the payment of preferred dividends, fell to three cents from 17 cents a year ago. The latest quarter included, among other items, a $4.8 billion pretax hit tied to changes in the value of the bank's debt. Excluding accounting changes related to the bank's debt, BofA reported profits of 31 cents per share, compared with the 12 cents estimated by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Blackstone First-Quarter Profit Falls on Performance Fees (Bloomberg) Economic net income, a measure of earnings excluding some costs tied to the firm’s 2007 initial public offering, dropped to $432.3 million, or 39 cents a share, from $571 million, or 51 cents, a year earlier, New York-based Blackstone said today in a statement. Analysts had expected earnings of 40 cents a share, according to the average of nine estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Fitch Analyst Reportedly Warns on Dutch Rating (Reuters) "The Dutch are on the edge of a negative rating action," the Telegraph quoted Fitch analyst Chris Pryce, the rating agency's expert on the Netherlands, as saying. Ackman Plans 2013 listing for $4bn fund (FT) Pershing Square is planning a $4bn public flotation for a new fund in January 2013. Bill Ackman intends to float the vehicle, which has already been set up in Guernsey and is known as Pershing Square Holdings, on a "major exchange." PSH will be a shell company and invest all its assets in Pershing Square’s offshore hedge funds. As such, after flotation, it would offer Mr Ackman a source of permanent capital. Man accuses Blackhawks, Cubs of 'stealing his ideas' (Chicago Tribune) Emanuel Kuvakos, 56, was arrested Tuesday night and charged with three counts of misdemeanor harassment by electronic means, police said. Kuvakos sent “a number’’ of emails to Blackhawks CEO John McDonough and to Jim Hendry, the former general manager of the Chicago Cubs, that accused them of “stealing his ideas to win championships,’’ according to a police report. On Saturday, he sent them another email stating that he would keep the Blackhawks from winning the Stanley Cup, police said. While being interviewed by authorities, he claimed he also sent a message to Rocky Wirtz, the Blackhawks owner, saying that if he ever saw Wirtz, he would beat him, according to the police report. Kuvakos, whose nickname is “Mike,” said during a telephone interview with the Chicago Tribune that he has been a freelance sportswriter for 30 years, and claimed he is a sports psychologist and “savant” who works for the Blackhawks, White Sox and the Cubs. Talks With Instagram Suggest a $104 Billion Valuation for Facebook (Dealbook) Facebook bought the photo-sharing service for $1 billion in early April, agreeing to pay roughly 30 percent in cash and 70 percent in stock, according to people briefed on the negotiations who did not want to be identified because the discussions were private. At that level, Facebook is pegging its own stock price at roughly $30 a share. Based on those numbers, the giant social network is valued at north of $75 billion. But Facebook could actually be worth more. During the negotiations with Instagram, the parties framed the deal around a logical assumption: Facebook could soon trade publicly at a much higher market value. As part of the talks, the companies discussed a potential value of about $104 billion for Facebook, these people said. One of Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom, first broached the number, one of the people said. At $104 billion, the value is roughly in line with where Facebook has at times traded on the secondary market: shares of the privately held company have been selling for as high as $40. More Americans Than Forecast Filed Weekly Jobless Claims (Bloomberg) Jobless claims fell by 2,000 to 386,000 in the week ended April 14 from a revised 388,000 the prior period that was higher than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a drop to 370,000. KKR's Real-Estate Arm Makes Its First Investment (WSJ) The Yorktown Center mall has 1.5 million square feet of retail space and more than 150 stores including a J.C. Penney and a Victoria's Secret. KKR's co-investor in the deal is YTC Pacific, which will manage the property, these people said. As is typical in a private-equity real-estate investment, KKR plans to improve the look of the mall and increase the occupancy rate with an eye toward reselling the property. Facebook Photo Sinks Man Who Stole Police Gas (TSG) A Kentucky man is facing a misdemeanor rap after he siphoned gasoline from a police car, a theft that came to the attention of cops after the perp posted a Facebook photo memorializing the crime. As Michael Baker, 20, was swiping the gas last month from a Jenkins Police Department squad car, he made sure to flip the bird as his girlfriend snapped a picture. While the siphoning photo has been removed from his Facebook page, Baker yesterday updated his 380 friends on his legal problems. “just got out of jail,” he wrote in one post, adding later that “yea lol i went too jail over facebook.” Responding to a friend who had not seen the image before it was yanked, Baker assured, “yea lol u would just have to seen it it was funny as hell tho.”

Opening Bell: 02.20.13

Regulator set to weigh lifetime futures-trading ban for Corzine (NYP) Two directors of the National Futures Association will move tomorrow to ban Corzine from the multibillion-dollar futures trading industry in light of the scandalous collapse of MF Global — the commodity futures brokerage firm Corzine once headed. If the motion is approved, NFA would hold hearings to determine whether Corzine, MF’s former CEO, deserves a “lifetime ban” from the industry...Corzine, who declined to comment on the proposed ban, is reportedly looking to set up a hedge fund. An NFA ban would limit his ability to trade futures in any fund with outside investors, experts said. It could also hinder his ability to raise money from pension funds and other large investors, experts said. Corzine could also be asked to fork over as much as $250,000 for each violation, according to NFA rules. The proposed ban cites nine rule violations, which could ding the disgraced Corzine for as much as $2.5 million. Rhetoric Turns Harsh As Budget Cuts Loom (WSJ) With less than two weeks to go before the latest fiscal face-off, rhetoric heated up Tuesday as the political parties exchanged fire over whom to blame if looming spending cuts take effect. With Congress in recess this week, Republican and Democratic leaders sent lawmakers home armed with fact sheets about the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts due to start March 1, and talking points on how to blame the other side. Meantime, the White House and lawmakers are making no progress toward forging a compromise to avoid the reductions, which are known in Washington as the sequester. Thousands of Greeks Rally in Anti-Austerity Strike (Reuters) Tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday during a nationwide strike against wage cuts and high taxes that kept ferries stuck in ports, schools shut and hospitals with only emergency staff. Beating drums and chanting "Robbers, robbers!" more than 60,000 people marched to parliament in the biggest anti-austerity protest so far this year. The two biggest labour unions brought much of crisis-hit Greece to a standstill during the 24-hour protest against policies which they say deepen the hardship of people struggling through the country's worst peacetime downturn. Judge Says Einhorn Hedge Fund May Succeed in Apple Case (Reuters) David Einhorn's hedge fund has shown a "likelihood of success" if his legal attack against Apple goes forward, a U.S. judge said, though he made no immediate ruling on fund's request to block a shareholder vote on a proxy proposal next week. U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan on Tuesday reserved decision on a lawsuit by the fund, Greenlight Capital, to stop a Feb. 27 shareholder vote on an Apple proposal to end the issuance of preferred stock without investor approval. "Candidly I do think the likelihood of success is in favor for Greenlight," Sullivan said at a court hearing in New York. Big Anglo-French Buyout Planned (FT) A British-based private equity consortium is preparing a bid of 3.5 billion euros for French catering company Elior in what would be the biggest buyout in continental Europe since Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008. CVC Capital Partners and BC Partners have teamed up to launch a buyout of Elior, underlining how confidence is returning to Europe's private equity sector. New York mom charged with child endangerment after hiring strippers to perform lap dances at her 16-year-old son's birthday party (NYDN) Judy Viger, 33, hired the women from a company called Tops in Bottoms and arranged for them to perform in a private room at the Spare Time Bowling Center in South Glens Falls on Nov. 3. At the party, the women performed what police describe as “personal and intimate” dances with the party guests, some of whom were as young as 13. Approximately 80 people attended the party, including a 13-year-old and many adults who later said they were outraged at the sexually charged performances. Police were alerted to the party activities after raunchy photos of the lap dances were posted online. The mother of a 15-year-old boy who attended the party saw some of the photos on her son’s Facebook page and alerted South Glens Falls authorities...The company providing the strippers said that the dancers were unaware that the kids at the party were underage, local CBS affiliate WRGB reported, and that the incident was being “blown out of proportion.” Heinz Deal Feeds Chatter About Food-Industry Consolidation (WSJ) The deal sparked speculation of what Heinz may want to buy and what other food company has the wherewithal to become a consolidator. With the potential for more tie-ups, that may also jar loose some brands or businesses—possibly Heinz's underperforming frozen-foods business—that could make a nice fit in another company's pantry. The speculation makes just about everyone a buyer or a seller. "Most of what food companies discuss at the conference will now be taken in the context of what it may mean for further industry consolidation or portfolio change," Barclays packaged-food analyst Andrew Lazar said. Brink’s Says Brussels Diamond Robbery Will Hurt Quarter’s Profit (Bloomberg) Brink’s Co., a provider of armored cars to transport valuables, said a diamond robbery at Brussels airport will have a “significant impact” on first-quarter earnings. A portion of the gems stolen two days ago was being shipped by Brink’s, the Richmond, Virgina-based company said today in a statement. The Antwerp World Diamond Centre has said about $50 million of rough and polished diamonds were stolen as the gems were being loaded onto a plane bound for Switzerland. Revel Into Chapter 11 (AP) Revel, the casino many people had hoped would turn around Atlantic City’s sagging fortunes, said yesterday that it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, less than a year after it opened. The voluntary, prepackaged bankruptcy envisioned for late March will wipe away about two-thirds of its $1.5 billion in debt by converting more than $1 billion of it into equity for lenders. JPMorgan Leads U.S. Banks Lending Least Deposits in 5 Years (Bloomberg) The biggest U.S. banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. are lending the smallest portion of their deposits in five years as cash floods in from savers and a slow economy damps demand from borrowers. The average loan-to-deposit ratio for the top eight commercial banks fell to 84 percent in the fourth quarter from 87 percent a year earlier and 101 percent in 2007, according to data compiled by Credit Suisse Group AG. Lending as a proportion of deposits dropped at five of the banks and was unchanged at two, the data show. New Grey Poupon 'Pardon Me' ad to air during Oscars (AP) After a 16-year hiatus, the mustard that mocked its own stuffy image in one of TV’s most famous commercials will once again take to the airwaves during the Feb. 24 Academy Awards show. The spot comes as Kraft Foods looks to boost sagging sales of the Dijon mustard, which is facing competition from a growing variety of high-end condiments on supermarket shelves. The new ad begins in the same way as the original — an aristocratic English gentleman is being chauffeured in the countryside, when another car pulls up alongside them at a stop. The back window rolls down and a second man asks in an over-the-top snooty accent, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?”

Opening Bell: 01.07.13

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