Opening Bell: 1.9.17

Inside the feds's pursuit of Steve Cohen; Goldman Sachs is tackling fake news; Alexa is listening to your TV; and more.
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When The Feds Went After The Hedge-Fund Legend Steven A. Cohen (New Yorker)

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Cohen had an aggressive P.R. firm on retainer, ready to counterattack the second Bharara made his announcement. “The tiny fraction of wrongdoers does not represent the 3,000 honest men and women who have worked at the firm during the past 21 years,” S.A.C.’s public-relations firm said in a statement. “S.A.C. has never encouraged, promoted or tolerated insider trading.” In his office, Bharara and his colleagues couldn’t believe what they were reading. S.A.C. had just signed a guilty plea admitting that it had, in fact, been built on a culture of securities fraud. The chief of Bharara’s securities unit called Cohen’s lawyers and told them to retract the statement, which they did. Then they released a new one that said, “We greatly regret this conduct occurred.”

Magic Eludes Bubble-Caller Jeremy Grantham, as Assets at GMO Drop by More Than $40 Billion (WSJ)

Investors are bailing on Jeremy Grantham once again. Mr. Grantham, co-founder and chief investment strategist of Boston money manager Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo & Co., has been out of step with the market several times during the firm's four decades. GMO has usually rebounded, with the 78-year-old investor earning acclaim with asset-bubble calls ahead of Wall Street busts in 2000 and 2008.

Goldman Sachs is Now Debunking “Fake News” (FT)

Fake news. It’s the hot new thing all the kids are talking about. There’s an entire epidemic of it going around, according to Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest and most cult-like hedge fund, Bridgewater. And now Goldman Sachs is on the case, “Debunking the ‘fake news’ of the imminent great rotation from bonds to stocks.”

This Goldman Sachs Chart Sums Up the Global Fallout From the 2008 Financial Crisis (BI)

The global policy response to the financial system's near collapse in 2008 from central banks has been to reduce interest rates and pump liquidity into the financial system. This has seen the price of stocks and bonds increase rapidly without having the same effect on the real economy. While financial assets have boomed since 2009, wages and consumer prices have stagnated.

Tourneau Store Near Trump Tower Loses $2 million In Sales (NYP)

President-elect Donald Trump is no friend of troubled Tourneau. The Tourneau TimeMachine on 57th and Madison Avenue has lost about $2 million in sales because it is close to the Trump Tower and the traffic it is creating on 57th and 5th, a source close to the company said.

Wall Street's Chinese Chimera (BBG)

Wall Street is split on the value of having a Chinese joint venture.Morgan Stanley and UBS Group AG are planning to raise their stakes in their securities operations in the country to the maximum 49 percent allowed, just weeks after JP Morgan Chase & Co. severed ties with its local partner amid frustration over a lack of control.

In a Revealing Interview With Henry Blodget, Ray Dalio Offers a Radical Solution to the Threat of 'Fake News' and Details Life Inside Bridgewater

Dalio: "Ray, I wanted to thank you personally so much for your generous support. I'm always so touched that you continue to think of me and so many other people at this time of year. I'm always at a loss of what to give back to you as you've given so much. I want you to know how much Bridgewater, your principles, and our way of being have meant to me and have helped me, especially through this past year. I've had one of the toughest years of my life personally, and I can't tell you how grateful I am to have the instilling and learning of values from this company as well as amazing people who have been there to help and to support me. Everyone will have tough times. I know that, and your principles have helped to guide and helped me make sense of things. I know I can handle anything that life throws at me, and I'm a stronger person for having worked here for so many years. I can't tell you how grateful I am for that. The principles that I rehearsed in my head often, over the past year: Have trust in truth, and you have nothing to fear from truth as well as everyone gets what they deserve out of life. I know it was the combination of the principles I have lived with now and are just part of me that have truly rounded things out for me through the rough waters. I truly mean what I say and have said to my parents often over the past six months. Thank God for Bridgewater and you, Ray. While I'm sure you do not realize the extent of my gratitude to you, please know that I'm eternally grateful for you, all of your teachings and for this amazing company that I have been honored to be part of in the past 12 years, and I hope will be my home for the rest of my career. I will also do everything I can to make it and keep it great. I love you, Ray. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas."

I get a lot of those.

Blodget: That's a great letter.

TV Report on Accidental Amazon Orders Triggers Attempted Amazon Orders Across San Diego (Gizmodo)

According to San Diego’s XETV-TDT, the trouble started on Thursday, when the station aired a story about a 6-year-old girl who reportedly bought a $170 dollhouse by asking her family’s Alexa-enabled Amazon Echo, “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?”“I loved the little girl’s take on it,” said anchor Jim Patton at the time. “‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse.’” That, apparently, was enough to prompt complaints from viewers “all over San Diego,” who claimed their own Alexa devices tried to place orders for dollhouses in response.

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Opening Bell: 9.25.17

Steve Cohen's new fund charges 2.5 percent; Merkel wins election, loses ground; stock pickers coming in from the cold; maybe the teens are still having sex; and more.

Opening Bell: 01.04.13

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

StatlerAndIcahn

Opening Bell: 11.8.17

Carl Icahn likes cars; Steve-Cohen-backed Quantopian is struggling; miniature IPOs are generally a bad idea; why you shouldn't play with guns during your bachelor party; and more.

Opening Bell: 03.19.12

Goldman Sachs Board Must Act on Smith Op-Ed, Ex-Partner Writes (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs directors must investigate a former employee’s allegations about a change in the firm’s culture, Jacki Zehner, who was a partner when she left the firm in 2002, wrote on her blog. “These are very serious accusations from a credible person in my view and I hope it does indeed provide a ‘wake-up’ call to the board of directors,” wrote Zehner, who was the first female trader promoted to partner and is married to a former partner. She is now CEO and president of Women Moving Millions, a non- profit supporting the advancement of women and girls worldwide. “It is the board that is accountable to shareholders and before they take another paycheck I hope they ask a heck of a lot of questions and get honest answers,” Zehner, 47, wrote in her March 16 commentary...Janet Tiebout Hanson, who left Goldman Sachs after almost 14 years in 1993 and in 1997 founded the women’s networking firm 85 Broads, wrote her own blog response to Smith’s op-ed piece, calling it a “cowardly act.” “By tossing a verbal hand grenade on his way out the door, he sullied the reputations of the vast majority of the people at the firm who work and live by the highest possible professional standards every single day,” wrote Hanson, who was the first woman at Goldman Sachs to be promoted into sales management. “He is just a quitter who never gave management an opportunity to respond before he verbally strafed the entire firm in print.” Is it Magic Johnson vs. Steve Cohen for Dodgers? (CBS) Cohen's appeal? Cash, mostly. Although Johnson is believed to have the highest total offer on the table (a rumored $1.6 billion), Cohen's bid has more cold, hard, redeemable U.S. currency involved ($900 million, to be precise). That may appeal to McCourt, who's facing a pricey divorce settlement with little more than exposed pocket linings and the Dodger Stadium parking lots to his sullied name. Additionally, as CBSSports.com Insider Jon Heyman has reported, Cohen may have additional credibility in the eyes of MLB because of his willingness to bring on board seasoned baseball men like Tony La Russa and former deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg. Lagarde Says World Can’t Be Lulled Into Sense of Security (Bloomberg) nternational Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde urged policy makers to be vigilant as oil prices, debt levels, and the risk of slowing growth in emerging markets threaten global economic stability. “Optimism should not give us a sense of comfort or lull us into a false sense of security,” Lagarde said today at a speech in Beijing at the China Development Forum. “We cannot go back to business as usual.” Gupta’s Lawyer Says ‘Wrong Man’ on Trial in Insider Case (Bloomberg) Gupta’s lawyer, Gary Naftalis, said that Rajaratnam had a different Goldman Sachs tipper, who gave him confidential information about Intel Corp. and Apple, the lawyer said. That Goldman source was also caught on government wiretaps passing the inside information, Naftalis said. Where Was The Bracket Born? (WSJ) Steven Murray, a Colorado Mesa University professor who has studied the history of sports, said the concept that inspired the bracket—a single-elimination sporting competition with many rounds—isn't a modern invention. He said the ancient Greeks held wrestling and boxing competitions starting around 700 B.C. where the combatants would draw lots to set pairings. If the tournament pairings were posted in a bracket form, Murray said, they probably would have been painted with pigment on scrolls, placards or walls and wouldn't have survived...By some accounts, the oldest existing sports bracket lies in the archives of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, which houses memorabilia from the famous tennis tournament. According to the curator, Honor Godfrey, the Lawn Tennis Championship printed a bracket in the program to display the pairings in its inaugural year, 1877. Godfrey said she couldn't find a copy of that program, but she did unearth a Xeroxed copy of the program from the following year, 1878. That program, issued by the "All England Croquet and Lawn-Tennis Club" announced the "Lawn Tennis Championship Meeting," which would be contested for a prize of 19 Guineas. Inside, on a full page, is a one-sided bracket with 34 names. To make the pairings add up correctly, a certain E.R. Seymour and a certain H.F. Lawford were awarded byes. To this day, Wimbledon's program includes a bracket of the tournament field. Apple To Say Monday How It Will Use Cash Hoard (NYT) Apple has finally decided what to do with its cash hoard of nearly $100 billion. The company issued an unusual media alert on Sunday evening saying it planned to announce on Monday morning the long-awaited outcome to a discussion by its board about what to do with its cash balance. It will announce its plans in a conference call at 9 a.m. Eastern time. Goldman's God Problem Goes Away, For Now (Reuters) For the past two years, a group of religious institutions that hold Goldman shares has asked the investment bank to review executive compensation packages and has been successful in getting its proposal taken up at regular shareholders' meetings. This year, the group, including the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, again sought to have its proposal voted on by shareholders. But for the first time, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sided with Goldman, which argued it had already complied with the request Scores Arrested as the Police Clear Zuccotti Park (City Room) The operation occurred after hundreds of people had gathered in the financial district to observe the founding of Occupy Wall Street six months ago. Earlier, protesters had embarked upon a winding march, after which police officers made initial arrests of about a dozen people near the park...Kobi Skolnick, 30, said that officers pushed him in several directions and that as he tried to walk away, he was struck from behind in the neck. “One of the police ran and hit me with a baton,” he said. Cambodia Embracing Capitalism With First IPO Since Khmer Rouge (Bloomberg) Enthusiasm about the start of trading at the exchange, which opened last July without a single listed company, extends beyond the borders of the Southeast Asian country. Investors including Templeton Emerging Markets Group Chairman Mark Mobius said they plan to participate in Cambodia’s stock market after state-owned Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority has its initial public offering next month. “The potential for investors in Cambodia is excellent,” Mobius, who oversees about $50 billion, wrote in an e-mail. “The listing of publicly traded stocks will drive up interest and demand. If a country can list its state-owned enterprises and list enough stocks so that foreign investors can get involved, then it can be very, very good.” E! Network Brings Clint Eastwood Clan (WSJ) Actor and director Clint Eastwood is about to add a credit to his nearly 60-year career: reality-television star. Mr. Eastwood; his wife, Dina; and two of his children, 18-year-old Francesca and 15-year-old Morgan, will appear in "Mrs. Eastwood & Co.," a reality series that tracks the family in Los Angeles, at their Carmel, Calif., home and beyond. The 10-episode series also will follow Overtone, a South African singing group that Mrs. Eastwood manages. The band appeared on the soundtrack of Mr. Eastwood's 2009 film "Invictus," which recounts Nelson Mandela's attempt to use rugby to help unify post-apartheid South Africa.

Opening Bell: 10.24.12

Hedge Funds Belt Few Home Runs (WSJ) They are the few. The proud. The hedge-fund managers making a killing this year. David Tepper's firm was up about 25% through Friday, partly from a bet Europe will avoid a meltdown. Steve Mandel's firm gained nearly as much from soaring consumer and technology stocks. Pine River Capital Management rose 30% thanks in part to subprime mortgages, as did Josh Birnbaum's Tilden Park. And the Barnegat Fund has climbed over 39% with a debt strategy that the manager concedes isn't for the faint of heart. The big gains, as reported by fund investors and people familiar with the firms, come as most hedge funds struggle for the fourth year a row, the longest period of underperformance since 1995 to 1998. Hedge funds on average gained 4.7% through September, according to industry tracker HFR, while stock-trading funds were up on average 5.5%. By comparison, the Standard & Poor's 500 index scored gains of 14%, including dividends, through Friday. Bond Investors Put Faith In A More Stable Africa (WSJ) Last month, Zambia raised $750 million with a 10-year global bond in an auction that drew offers worth more than 15 times that amount. Nigeria in September sold 30 million naira ($192,000) in five-year bonds, to demand twice as high. Spurred by the heavy interest, Rwanda wants to issue a global bond by June and Kenya is planning one as early as next year. Investors' willingness to step up to buy African bonds is another sign of their thirst for yield. Efforts by the Federal Reserve and other major central banks to push down interest rates and buy developed-market bonds have driven investors further and further afield. Africa, a continent of more than 50 countries, is considered one of the last investing frontiers—many of its nations have been isolated from international markets, in part due to a history of default by some countries. Sir Mervyn King: no recovery until banks recapitalise (Telegraph) Raising the prospect of rights issues or even another taxpayer bail-out for the state-backed lenders Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, Sir Mervyn King said UK banks have “insufficient capital” to protect against undeclared losses on their books. FDIC Gets Windfall In Bank-Failure Settlement (WSJ) International Paper Co has agreed to pay the FDIC to settle a year-old lawsuit stemming from the 2009 collapse of Guaranty Financial Group, an Austin, Texas, company that ranks as the fifth-biggest U.S. bank failure. As part of the agreement, the failed bank's creditors will get an added $38 million, bringing the total settlement to $80 million. Although International Paper, Memphis, Tenn., didn't have any direct connection until this year to the banking industry or to the failed Texas bank, its involvement in the case demonstrates the long tentacles of the financial crisis. International Paper was pulled into the case in February when it bought packaging firm Temple-Inland Inc., which had owned Guaranty for nearly two decades before spinning it off into an independent company in 2007. Guaranty failed less than two years later, weighed down by toxic securities that were backed by adjustable-rate mortgages. It had 162 branches and $13.5 billion in assets. The bank's deteriorating securities portfolio was the subject of a page-one article in The Wall Street Journal just before it failed. The failure cost the FDIC's deposit-insurance fund $1.29 billion, according to an estimate published on the agency's website. RBS Settles Over Loans In Nevada (NYT) The Royal Bank of Scotland agreed to pay $42.5 million late Tuesday in a settlement with the Nevada attorney general that ends an 18-month investigation into the deep ties between the bank and two mortgage lenders during the housing boom. Most of the money paid by R.B.S. — $36 million — will be used to help distressed borrowers throughout Nevada. In addition, R.B.S. agreed to finance or purchase subprime loans in the future only if they comply with state laws and are not deceptive. The settlement between the bank and Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada’s attorney general, relates to conduct at Greenwich Capital, the R.B.S. unit that bundled mortgages into securities and sold them to investors. Nevada found that R.B.S. worked closely with Countrywide Financial and Option One, two of the most aggressive lenders during the boom. Aurora Bird Hoarder: ‘I Was Obsessed’ (CBS) Outside of his west suburban Aurora townhome Monday, Dave Skeberdis admitted right away: “I am a hoarder.” “I did let the birds multiply. I admit, I was obsessed,” he said. “But I’m a regular person.” Skeberdis, 57, estimated that there are 200 birds of varying species inside his townhome in the 200 block of Shadybrook Lane. He returned to the home Monday to feed the birds. “It’s condemned, but they can’t stop me from going into the house,” he said. “I don’t really want to lose them, but this is too many birds.” On Monday, Skeberdis, who is employed in the information technology field, said he can now understand that his bird collecting is out of control. He said he is from a family of hoarders. “I think it’s time for a change in my life,” Skeberdis said...Skeberdis, who is not married, acquired his first bird seven years ago, he said, on April 15, 2005. While working in computer support at United Airlines, he “rescued” a parakeet, and later named the bird “Doc.” “I saved his life, and he saved mine,” Skeberdis said. Over time, he bought and adopted more birds. Those birds include a Chinese Quail named “Demon,” blind bird “Longstreet” and scalped bird “Liz Cojack,” and a white baby parakeet he hand-fed and once carried to work with him in a briefcase. Appeal In Insider Trading Case Centers On Wiretaps (Dealbook) In March 2008, the Justice Department made an extraordinary request: It asked a judge for permission to record secretly the phone conversations of Raj Rajaratnam, a billionaire hedge fund manager. The request, which was granted, was the first time the government had asked for a wiretap to investigate insider trading. Federal agents eavesdropped on Mr. Rajaratnam for nine months, leading to his indictment — along with charges against 22 others — and the biggest insider trading case in a generation. On Thursday, lawyers for Mr. Rajaratnam, who is serving an 11-year prison term after being found guilty at trial, will ask a federal appeals court to reverse his conviction. They contend that the government improperly obtained a wiretap in violation of Mr. Rajaratnam’s constitutional privacy rights and federal laws governing electronic surveillance...Such a ruling is considered a long shot, but a reversal would have broad implications. Not only would it upend Mr. Rajaratnam’s conviction but also affect the prosecution of Rajat K. Gupta, the former Goldman Sachs director who was convicted of leaking boardroom secrets to Mr. Rajaratnam...A decision curbing the use of wiretaps would also affect the government’s ability to police Wall Street trading floors, as insider trading cases and other securities fraud crimes are notoriously difficult to build without direct evidence like incriminating telephone conversations. Ex-Goldman Director Gupta Awaits Sentence In Insider Trading Case (Reuters) Gupta's lawyers have requested that he be spared prison, citing his work with groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on fighting disease in developing countries. Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp's co-founder, and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan are among the luminaries who have urged Rakoff to be lenient. As one alternative to prison, the defense proposed "a less orthodox" plan in which Gupta would live and work with Rwandan government officials to help fight HIV/AIDS and malaria in rural districts, court papers said. Federal prosecutors, however, argue that Gupta should serve eight to 10 years in prison. Companies Are Sitting On More Cash Than Ever Before (CNBC) Amid a lackluster earning season that has featured many companies missing sales expectations, cash balances have swelled 14 percent and are on track toward $1.5 trillion for the Standard & Poor's 500, according to JPMorgan. Both levels would be historic highs. Denny's heads to Middle-earth with 'Hobbit'-inspired menu (LA Times) It’s Bilbo Baggins time down at Denny’s, which is rolling out a menu and marketing campaign based on the upcoming film “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” The 11 new menu items are enough to satisfy the diminutive creatures’ six-meal-a-day habit, with options such as Shire Sausage, Bilbo’s Berry Smoothies, Build Your Own Hobbit Slam and Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies. The film, based on the novel by “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien, opens Dec. 14. The limited Denny’s offer will run from Nov. 6 through January, according to the chain.

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.

By Sadie Hernandez [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 8.17.16

Brevan Howard, Tudor hit hard; Steve Cohen settles with CFTC; Pokémon Go players hit with a laser attack by pig-masked couple having public sex in Sweden; and more.

stevecohen6

Opening Bell: 5.30.17

Steve Cohen found a nice big round number to aim for; Barney Frank says “all numbers are arbitrary”; there's now a Pissing Pug next to the Fearless Girl; and more.