Opening Bell: 2.27.17

Warren Buffett wrote a thing; Silicon Valley is foisting creativity on everyone; getting hit in the balls is an art form; and more.
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Buffett Stings Hedge Funds Anew Over Their `Misbegotten' Rewards (BBG)
In his well-read annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders on Saturday, he estimated that investors wasted more than $100 billion on high-fee Wall Street money managers over the past 10 years. “The bottom line: When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients,” Buffett wrote. “Both large and small investors should stick with low-cost index funds.”

Warren Buffett endorses share buybacks (FT)
In his latest annual letter, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway urged everyone in what he called the “heated” debate over buybacks to “take a deep breath”. He wrote: “Some people have come close to calling them un-American — characterising them as corporate misdeeds that divert funds needed for productive endeavours. That simply isn’t the case.”

Upstart analysts show banks the way in new era for research (Reuters)
Rather than desk-based financial modeling, Hiley sends his analysts out to visit stores and test products. The Analyst was among the first to flag issues at Gowex, a Spanish tech firm it later emerged was faking revenues. "The sell-side and fund managers hadn't done any on-the ground work," Hiley said. "They don't have the time."

Chart of the Day: The BlackBerry’s fall to 0.0 percent market share (Recode)
A decade after the iPhone launched, the BlackBerry platform is all but dead.

Bank Lending Signals Caution (WSJ)
The more worrisome explanation is that political uncertainty is causing companies and banks to put off big decisions until the outlook for trade and tax policy is clearer. The lending slowdown began showing up clearly just before the election last year.

Bond Market Is Flashing Warning Signal on Trump Reflation Trade (WSJ)
Some money managers and traders believe that a rising Treasury bond market, often seen as a haven for investors, is a warning that valuations of riskier assets may be stretched. James Sarni, senior managing partner at Payden & Rygel, is among those who bought Treasurys in recent weeks. “The bond market is showing a more realistic view on the fiscal policy outlook than the stock market,’’ Mr. Sarni said. “The bond market has it right.”

When driverless cars crash, who gets the blame and pays the damages? (WaPo)
If anything about driverless cars can be considered an old riddle it is this one: the car is driving itself down a residential street when a woman pushing a baby stroller suddenly enters a crosswalk. Unable to stop, should the car’s computer opt to hit mother and child, or veer off to strike a tree, almost certainly killing its passengers?

What’s the price of meaningfulness? (Alphaville)
The tech utopians are forcing creativity on everyone. Not everyone is. Humanity is a spectrum of different types of personalities and natural skills. Some people crave order and security. Others love risk, mess and insecurity. To assume humanity is all the latter is ridiculous because actually the demographic evidence suggests most of humanity is pretty mediocre and satisfied with quite ordinary or material things. Ignorance is bliss etc etc.

Kung Fu Master With Iron Crotch Is One Ballsy Martial Artist (HuffPo)
Master Wei has been practicing his ball-bashing form of martial arts for 10 years in the city of Luoyang. “I insist on doing it every day,” he says in the video. “I believe it builds up resistance and I have [gotten] less fever and colds than before.” [...] Here’s one of his students practicing having his privates smashed with a battering ram. Repeatedly.

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Opening Bell: 5.8.17

Warren Buffett said some things; Goldman kicks the Volcker can a bit farther; Ukraine deems Steven Seagal a national security threat; and more.

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Opening Bell: 6.22.17

Warren Buffett comes to the rescue up north; Bill Ackman has a glimmer in his eye; the future of cycling is (literally) shit; and more.

Opening Bell: 04.12.12

Buffett Feasts On Goldman Scraps (WSJ) Details of one trade in particular have recently caused a stir in the market. In November, Goldman sold about $85 million of loans in troubled newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises Goldman sold the debt at about 65 cents on the dollar, having bought it months before at around 80 cents, resulting in a loss of at least $13 million. The buyer: a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., according to several people familiar with the matter. Mr. Buffett has since made a tidy paper profit on the loans, which are now worth about 82 cents on the dollar, the people said. Jim Chanos: Chinese Banks ‘Great Shorts,’ Won’t Be Broken Up (CNBC) Chanos, the head of Kynikos Associates, has been betting against China — despite its role as a global economic leader — primarily because he believes the country is overbuilt and does not have the internal demand to support its ambitious growth plans. Nowhere has that trend been more apparent than in the banking system. "If you looked at the performance of the banks over the last two years...they have been great shorts," Chanos said. "They have been going down — they're down 30 percent over the last two years." George Soros: Exceptional Measures Needed to Save EU (FT) "Other countries have gone through similar experiences. Latin American countries suffered a lost decade after 1982, and Japan has been stagnating for a quarter of a century; both have survived. But the European Union is not a country and it is unlikely to survive. The deflationary debt trap threatens to destroy a still-incomplete political union," he wrote. Blackstone President To Raise For Obama (Morning Money) "Tony James, the president of Blackstone Group LP, has agreed to hold a fundraiser for... Obama’s re-election campaign, according to two people familiar...By agreeing to raise money for Obama, James has diversified Blackstone’s political bets for the November election. Blackstone Chairman Stephen Schwarzman has been raising money for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee." SEC, Goldman to Settle Research Case (Reuters) U.S. securities regulators are preparing to announce that Goldman Sachs will pay $22 million to settle allegations the bank did not have adequate policies to prevent research from being passed inappropriately to preferred clients, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. BlackRock's Street Shortcut (WSJ) BlackRock is planning to launch a trading platform this year that would let the world's largest money manager and its peers bypass Wall Street and trade bonds directly with one another. The electronic trading hub has the potential to reduce a lucrative revenue stream for investment banks at a time when their businesses are being squeezed by lackluster markets and new regulations put in place to curb risk in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The trading platform would be run by the New York-based company's BlackRock Solutions arm and offer 46 clients—including sovereign-wealth funds, insurance companies and other money managers—the ability to trade in corporate bonds, mortgage securities and other assets, company executives say. Under the plan, the platform would seek to match buyers and sellers of the same securities, in a process known as "crossing trades." BlackRock Solutions would charge a small fee for the service that would be much lower than Wall Street's trading commissions. New Yorker breaks up subway scuffle, snacks in hand (NYDN) Sonder, 24, played the role of hungry hero “two or three Thursdays ago” after hopping on an uptown 6 train at Spring St. The calm inside the subway car was shattered a minute later when a tussle broke out between a man and a woman. “I turned around and I saw these two kicking each other pretty viciously,” said the sturdy Sonder, who stands six-feet tall and weighs 200 pounds. “I stepped over and tried to see if I could help.” Mid Pringle, Sonder thrust himself between the pugilists. More chips were eaten, but no other punches or kicks were thrown. “I just got caught up in the moment,” said Sonder, who was also holding a bag of gummy bears during the incident. Dimon Vows Fight Moynihan Lost Over Claims From Mortgages (Bloomberg) “We are going to fight repurchase claims that pretend the steep decline in home prices and unprecedented market conditions had no impact on loan performance,” Dimon, chief executive officer of the New York-based lender, wrote in the April 4 letter. He’ll also oppose “securities claims brought by sophisticated investors who understood and accepted the risks.” Jobless Claims Post Jump; PPI Up, Trade Deficit Down (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 380,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised up to 367,000 from the previously reported 357,000. Fur Flies in High-Stakes Airlifts of Animals by Lufthansa (Bloomberg) An African white rhinoceros peers through the bars of its Frankfurt compound, while across the floor a Madagascan chameleon inches around its vivarium and an Andean alpaca plucks hay from a bale. It’s not a scene from the city’s zoo but from Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s Animal Lounge, a state-of-the-art complex that’s at the center of the German carrier’s plans to dominate the most specialized part of the $66 billion air-cargo industry. Lufthansa, Air France-KLM Group and Dubai-based Emirates, which transports thoroughbreds for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, horseracing’s leading owner, are competing in a high- stakes market. Premium profit margins come with the risk of an in-flight death involving a beloved family pet, top-ranked stallion or priceless panda. “It’s not like pharmaceuticals, where your main concern is the temperature,” said Animal Lounge Director Axel Heitmann. “If a bag of fish leaks it needs replacing with the right kind of water and the right oxygen. And if something goes wrong you can’t just hand a customer $1,000 and tell him to buy another pet. He wants the dog or cat he’s had for 10 years.” KKR Invests in China Cord Blood (WSJ) Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P. will invest $65 million into China Cord Blood Corp., the country's largest operator of services for umbilical cord blood that is rich in stem cells, to capitalize on China's fast growing healthcare services industry. Police: Dealer tied 89 bags to penis, peed at the station (Philly) Police Corporal Christopher Eiserman said another officer was on routine patrol Friday when he pulled Ray Woods over for a broken rear light and found marijuana in his car. When the officer searched Woods before placing him in the police cruiser, he discovered "a large bulge" in the front of his pants, Eiserman said. Police say Woods actually had the balls to deny that there was any contraband down there. “He stopped him for the traffic violation and one thing led to another," Eiserman said. Back at the station, Eiserman said, police discovered that Woods had tied a large plastic bag around his penis that contained a whopping 89 small bags of suspected heroin and cocaine. Then things got messy. “I tried to remove it. Unfortunately, and I don't know if it was nervousness or not, but he started urinating all over," Eiserman said. While it wasn't exactly what Eiserman had in mind when he started his shift Friday, he couldn't help but chuckle at the ingenuity, or lack thereof, of street-level drug dealers. “In 14 years, I’ve seen it down their pants, in their a--, but I've never seen it tied to their penis," he said.

Opening Bell: 11.19.12

Geithner: Deal To Avoid 'Fiscal Cliff' Can Be Made In Weeks (Bloomberg) Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said he’s confident an agreement on averting the fiscal cliff can be concluded within weeks after White House talks between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders. “It was a good meeting, and the tone was very good,” Geithner said in an interview in Washington. “I think this is doable within several weeks.” Geithner said a deal must be reached soon to prevent further damaging consumer confidence. The lack of agreement is “this huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economy,” he said. As the peak of holiday shopping season approaches, “You’d want to do it as soon as you can.” “This is within our grasp, within our reach,” Geithner said. “It’s not that complicated.” Geithner repeated the administration’s calls for an immediate extension of middle-class tax cuts, and said a deal on high-end tax cuts shouldn’t be delayed. “I think deferring things doesn’t work,” he said. “You know, we’ve had several periods now where there was a choice made to defer.” Obama Calls CEOs, Including Buffett, Dimon (Politico) President Obama made calls to a handful of top business leaders over the weekend, a White House official said Sunday, as part of effort to build support for his approach to averting the fiscal cliff. In conversations that came during his weekend of travel to and in Asia, Obama stressed "the need to find a balanced deficit reduction solution that protects the middle class and continues to move our economy forward," the official said. Obama spoke to Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, Apple CEO Tim Cook, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney and Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, the official said. Lagarde: Reality' Not 'Wishful Thinking' Needed on Greece (Reuters) "I am always trying to be constructive but I am driven by two objectives," Lagarde said in an interview, "to build and approve a program for Greece that is solid, that is convincing today, that will be sustainable tomorrow, that is rooted in reality and not in wishful thinking. Investment Falls Off A Cliff (WSJ) U.S. companies are scaling back investment plans at the fastest pace since the recession, signaling more trouble for the economic recovery. Half of the nation's 40 biggest publicly traded corporate spenders have announced plans to curtail capital expenditures this year or next, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal of securities filings and conference calls. Sahara Feeling Heat Over Bond Sales (WSJ) India's Sahara Group has built an empire by offering financial products to tens of millions of rural Indians who typically stashed their meager savings under the mattress. Business was so good that Sahara, using fees and investments from its customers' deposits, grew into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that includes a 10,000-acre township, New York's Plaza Hotel building and a Formula-1 racing team. Today, the company's practices are coming under intense public scrutiny, the product of years of tussle between Sahara and regulators who worry India's informal financial sector has grown dangerously fast and without oversight. Many savers who scraped together money to put with Sahara now fear they could face lengthy delays in getting their money back. Opportunists Stockpile Twinkies for Big Payday (AP) Hours after the maker of Twinkies, Hostess Brands, announced its plans to close forever, people flocked to stores to fill their shopping baskets with boxes of Twinkies, which are cream-filled sponge cakes, and other snacks made by the company — Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and Zingers. Late Friday and Saturday, the opportunists took to the Web sites eBay and Craigslist. They began marketing their hoards to whimsical collectors and junk-food lovers for hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars. That is a fat profit margin, considering the retail price for a box of 10 Twinkies is about $5. Bond Investor Takes Big Punt On Ireland (FT) Franklin Templeton funds increased their holdings of Irish bonds by more than a third to at least €8.4 billion in the third quarter. This means that the San Francisco-based US asset manager now controls almost a 10th of Ireland’s entire government bond market. Most of the bonds have been snapped up by funds controlled by Michael Hasenstab, co-director of Franklin Templeton’s international bond department, and particularly by the $64 billion Templeton Global Bond Fund he manages. Kim Kardashian Weighs In On The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (HP) Kim Kardashian is apparently neutral when it comes to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reality star first tweeted support for Israel: "Praying for everyone in Israel," she wrote. And after five minutes of backlash, the star tweeted again: "And praying for everyone in Palestine and across the world!" she wrote. Kardashian is clearly the last person anyone wanted to hear from regarding the issue, and the 32-year-old was immediately hit with more backlash over the tweets -- including death threats. The star has since deleted the tweets and explained her reasons for tweeting about the conflict in a blog post on her website. Shadow Banking Grows to $67 Trillion Industry, Regulators Say (Bloomberg) The shadow banking industry has grown to about $67 trillion, $6 trillion bigger than previously thought, leading global regulators to seek more oversight of financial transactions that fall outside traditional oversight. The size of the shadow banking system, which includes the activities of money market funds, monoline insurers and off- balance sheet investment vehicles, “can create systemic risks” and “amplify market reactions when market liquidity is scarce,” the Financial Stability Board said in a report, which utilized more data than last year’s probe into the sector. “Appropriate monitoring and regulatory frameworks for the shadow banking system needs to be in place to mitigate the build-up of risks,” the FSB said in the report published on its website. Lehman Trustee Ends Citigroup Fight (WSJ) The trustee unwinding Lehman Brothers Inc. reached an agreement with Citigroup that ends a long-running legal fight over more than $1 billion that Lehman deposited at the bank the week it filed for bankruptcy protection. The deal puts $435 million in the coffers of Lehman's brokerage unit, LBI, for distribution to customers and other creditors, according to the settlement filed Friday night in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. Europe Seeks More Taxes From US Multinationals (NYT) Google, Amazon, Starbucks and other American companies facing tax scrutiny say they are doing nothing wrong. They use complex accounting strategies to exploit national differences across Europe in corporate tax rates, which range from less than 10 percent to more than 30 percent, and loopholes that can reduce their effective European tax levies to almost nothing. Google, for example, records most of its international revenue at its European headquarters in Ireland, where the corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent. Across Europe, customers who buy advertising, Google’s primary source of revenue, sign contracts with the company’s subsidiary in Ireland, rather than with local branches. Google ends up paying Irish taxes on only a fraction of the billions of euros that course through its Dublin office. That is because the company uses a variety of methods, including royalty payments to a unit in Bermuda, to reduce further the amount of money exposed to tax liability. So, while Google told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it generated more than $4 billion in sales in Britain last year, it reported revenue of only £396 million, or $629 million, in itsofficial filings there. Central New York district attorney Marc Suben admits to '70s porn star past (NYDN) Prior to this year’s election, Marc Suben denied appearing in 1970s skin flicks, telling reporters he was the subject of a campaign by political rivals who wanted to sully his reputation. But Friday, CNYCentral.com published a story highlighting a YouTube video comparing Suben with porn actor Gus Thomas, whose IMDB film credits include “Deep Throat Part 2” and “Doctor’s Teenage Dilemma.” Suben swiftly called a press conference and “humbly” apologized to those he had deceived. He admitted to using “bad judgment” both by appearing in adult films in his youth and by lying about them as a public official. He was first elected in 2008. “I was shocked and embarrassed to be confronted with this so many years later,” said Suben, who has also served as a judge. “I was embarrassed for my family and friends who stood by me. I also denied my actions to my family, my friends and my staff.” He declined to say whether he plans to resign.

Source: AP

Opening Bell: 6.30.17

Warren Buffett just made a few bucks on Bank of America; hedge funds did naughty things with hot IPO shares; Goop vs Infowars; flying weiners; and more.