Opening Bell: 3.30.17

Merrill Lynch rejiggers itself; Larry Fink is now a modern art masterpiece; Cristiano Ronaldo is too, arguably; and more.
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Allow me to introduce you to my dear friend, some banker at the BofA branch next door. By roanokecollege [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By roanokecollege [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Merrill Lynch Restructures Leadership (WSJ)
Merrill head Andy Sieg, who is roughly three months into his tenure, told the firm’s more than 14,500 brokers that the goal is to get Merrill to “operate more effectively as a business,” according the memo. “Our shared objective is to make the organization feel like a smaller, more tightly integrated firm.”

This Chinese Stock Soared 4,500% on Nasdaq and No One Knows Why (BBG)
“We spent hundreds of hours researching the company, and the story has become one of the most abstract in my career,” analyst William McNarland of Eiffel Peak Capital, a merchant bank in Calgary that doesn’t have a position in the company, wrote in a report this month. “The only period that we have seen a stock at these valuations was a few internet companies in the spring of 2000, and we all know how that story ended.”

Have a Donkey to Trade? China Has an Exchange for That (BBG)
The demand from China is being felt internationally. Niger, the BBC has reported, has banned the export of donkeys to preserve the animal there; Burkina Faso has banned the export of their skins. In some places where donkeys are used in farming and other work, the trade “has inflated prices for donkeys so much that families that depend on them can’t replace their donkeys,” says Mike Baker, chief executive officer of the Donkey Sanctuary, a U.K. charity.

BlackRock’s Larry Fink Is Now a Modern Art Exhibit (WSJ)
Occupy Museums, the group of artists and activists responsible for the exhibit, plotted the growth of BlackRock’s assets on a 17-by-30-foot wall next to measures of student-loan delinquencies and a rise in the price of art. Near the ceiling is a trimmed 2015 quote from Mr. Fink that reads: “The two greatest stores of wealth internationally today [are] contemporary art [...and] apartments in Manhattan.”

Chase Had Ads on 400,000 Sites. Then on Just 5,000. Same Results. (NYT)
JPMorgan started looking into preapproving sites, a strategy known as whitelisting, this month after The New York Times showed it an ad for Chase’s private client services on a site called Hillary 4 Prison. It was under a headline claiming that the actor Elijah Wood had revealed “the horrifying truth about the Satanic liberal perverts who run Hollywood.”

Former Citizens Bankers Say They Faked Data for Customer-Meeting Program (WSJ)
“For a week or so, I had my bankers [try to make] real appointments. No one was picking up the phone,” said a former branch manager in Massachusetts, recalling when the “Citizens Checkup” program was introduced in February 2016. “So we put random people’s names down and said, ‘We have an appointment.’”

Many Happy S&P 500 Revenues (Yardeni Blog)
Now the worst is over for commodity producers, as their prices have rebounded. That’s because they scrambled to reduce output and restructure their operations to be more profitable at lower prices. More importantly, global demand for commodities remained solid. Now with commodity prices, especially oil prices, well below their 2014 highs, consumers are benefitting more than producers are suffering.

The Federal Reserve’s pension fund isn’t trying to tell you anything (FT Alphaville)
The Fed’s policymakers have many ways to tell us what they think about the growth and inflation outlook. The pension plan’s investment strategy isn’t one of them.

People Are Deeply Disturbed By This Hideous Statue Of Cristiano Ronaldo (HuffPo)
By most accounts, Portuguese soccer great Cristiano Ronaldo is handsome. But you might not know that judging by the bust of him that was unveiled at the renaming of the Madeira airport in his honor Wednesday. Visitors at Aeroporto Cristiano Ronaldo are now greeted by a sculpture of his “face” in front of the terminal.

Related

Opening Bell: 3.16.15

Germans want Greece to GTFO; Father/daughter financial advisers/cheerleaders exit Merrill Lynch; "The man drives through the mall, nearly hitting several bystanders, while being chased by the police"; AND MORE.

moynihan-merrill

Opening Bell: 11.5.18

China not acting ready to deal; Britain acting thirsty to deal; Merrill Lynch brokers will make less money; Drunk baggage handler takes sleepy trip in cargo hold; and more!

Opening Bell: 12.20.12

Report Says Libor-Tied Losses at Fannie, Freddie May Top $3 Billion (WSJ) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may have lost more than $3 billion as a result of banks' alleged manipulation of a key interest rate, according to an internal report by a federal watchdog sent to the mortgage companies' regulator and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The unpublished report urges Fannie and Freddie to consider suing the banks involved in setting the London interbank offered rate, which would add to the mounting legal headaches financial firms such as UBS AG and Barclays face from cities, insurers, investors and lenders over claims tied to the benchmark rate. Libor Documents May Boost Civil Suits (WSJ) Analysts have published a range of estimates of the potential impact to the industry of lawsuits stemming from the manipulation—in some cases they reach into the tens of billions of dollars or more. It likely will be years before the extent of any liabilities becomes clear. For the lawsuits to succeed, plaintiffs must prove that banks successfully altered the interest-rate benchmarks and caused the plaintiffs to suffer a loss. Michael Hausfeld, chairman of Hausfeld LLP, a co-lead counsel on one of the lawsuits, said the UBS settlement was "extremely useful" for the litigation. The "extraordinary emails" published by the regulators exposed the "pervasiveness of the culture and the activity." UBS Trader Hayes Exposed at Core of Libor Investigation (Bloomberg) Tom Hayes, one of two former UBS AG traders charged by U.S. prosecutors, is portrayed by American regulators as the kingpin of a three-year campaign that succeeded in manipulating global interest rates. Hayes, 33, was charged with wire fraud and price-fixing, the Department of Justice said in a criminal complaint unsealed yesterday. The trader and Roger Darin, a former short-term interest-rates trader at UBS whose responsibilities included the firm’s yen Libor quotes, were also charged with conspiracy...Hayes colluded with brokers, counterparts at other firms and his colleagues to manipulate the rate, the Justice Department said. Between 2006 and 2009, a UBS trader made at least 800 requests to the firm’s yen Libor rate-setters, about 100 to traders at other banks, and 1,200 to interdealer brokers, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which didn’t identify Hayes by name. “Many UBS yen derivatives traders and managers were involved in the manipulative conduct and made requests to serve their own trading positions’ interests,” the CFTC said. “But the volume of unlawful requests submitted by one particular senior yen derivatives trader in Tokyo dwarfed them all.” IntercontinentalExchange Agrees to Acquire NYSE Euronext (Bloomberg) IntercontinentalExchange Inc., the 12-year-old energy and commodity futures bourse, agreed to acquire NYSE Euronext for cash and stock worth $8.2 billion, moving to take control of the world’s biggest equities market. ICE, based in Atlanta, will pay $33.12 a share for the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, 38 percent above yesterday’s closing price, according to a statement today. Both boards approved the proposal and the companies expect to complete the transaction in the second half of 2013. Last year, the U.S. Justice Department blocked a joint hostile bid by ICE and Nasdaq OMX Group for the New York-based company on concern the combination would dominate U.S. stock listings. Greece Faces 'Make or Break' Year (FT) We can make it next year if we can stick to the program agreed with the EU and IMF," finance minister Yannis Stournaras said in an interview with the Financial Times. However, "the break would be if the political system finds the situation too difficult to handle", he added, referring to the danger of social unrest about austerity that could force the two left-of-center parties to bring down the governing coalition. "What we have done so far is necessary but not sufficient to achieve a permanent solution for Greece," Mr Stournaras said. "The issue now is implementation." Boehner's 'Plan B' Gets Pushback (WSJ) The mood at the White House was gloomy, while on Capitol Hill it fluctuated. Few seemed confident the nation would avoid the tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, but others noted major Washington deals are usually reached only after several near-death experiences. Preparing for the World's End, Just in Case (WSJ) Tony Brown, a private investigator in Southern California, says he has spent nearly $60,000 preparing for Teotwawki — an acronym for "the end of the world as we know it"—or SHTF—when the "s--- hits the fan." Mr. Brown has purchased an ultralight plane and amassed three tons of food in his kitchen, about a third in freeze-dried meals. About a year ago, Mr. Brown started a website to recruit a community of preppers to plan for a cataclysm. In the first several months, he said he received few inquiries. But by the summer, traffic to the site soared and applications have come rolling in since. He recently capped the group at 175 members—all are responsible for their own one-year supply of food—though he is still seeking a doctor, meteorologist and ham-radio operator. Mr. Brown has contingency plans for four doomsday scenarios he deems most likely—a supervolcano, solar flare, major earthquake or hyper inflation—and a large underground bunker in case of a nuclear attack. He doesn't believe the world will end on Dec. 21, "but, just in case, I want to have everything ready by then," he said. US Economy Grew 3.1%; Jobless Claims Rise (Reuters) Weekly jobless claims rose to 361,000 in the latest week. Claims has been expected to rise to 357,000, from 343,000 the prior week. BofA’s Moynihan Said to Kill Proposal to Cut Pay for Brokers (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan blocked a proposal to cut the main component of most brokers’ pay for 2013, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The plan would have reduced the so-called grid payout for Merrill Lynch financial advisers by two percentage points, the person said, requesting anonymity because it wasn’t made public. The changes, which would have affected advisers generating less than $1 million in commissions, were seen as a way to cushion the costs of new bonuses, the person said. In $18 Million Theft, Victim Was a Canadian Maple Syrup Cartel (NYT) It was an inside job of sorts. Thieves with access to a warehouse and a careful plan loaded up trucks and, over time, made off with $18 million of a valuable commodity. The question is what was more unusual: that the commodity in question was maple syrup, or that it came from something called the global strategic maple syrup reserve, run by what amounts to a Canadian cartel. On Tuesday, the police in Quebec arrested three men in connection with the theft from the warehouse, which is southwest of Quebec City. The authorities are searching for five others suspected of being involved, and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Canada and the United States are trying to recover some of the stolen syrup. Both the size and the international scope of the theft underscore Quebec’s outsize position in the maple syrup industry. Depending on the year, the province can produce more than three-quarters of the world’s supply. And its marketing organization appears to have taken some tips from the producers of another valuable liquid commodity when it comes to exploiting market dominance. “It’s like OPEC,” said Simon Trépanier, acting general manager of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “We’re not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing 70 to 78 percent, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in the marketplace.” NYers who believe in Mayan apocalypse search for sex before the world ends (NYP) While some people around the world are arming themselves and digging into bunkers, many New Yorkers are simply hoping for a hot time. “I will be looking for an end-of-the-world hook-up,” Dennis Cintron, 29, a Lower East Side bartender, told The Post. “If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang.” Cintron said he’ll buy new clothes and get a haircut for the big day because he wants some “companionship” to ring in the rapture. Sara Saperstein, 26, of Bushwick is also hoping for one last romp. “It’s like New Year’s. I want to go out on a wild note!” Saperstein said. She won’t have trouble finding a spot for that. More than a dozen bars and clubs in New York City are throwing end-of-days bashes, including a comedy show at the Bell House in Gowanus and an “End of the Funking World Party” at B.B. King Blues Club in Midtown. Other singles posted ads on Craigslist.org and OKCupid.com, seeking apocalypse-themed dates, “casual encounters” and even “end of the world sex.” “If you’ve got no plans for the apocalypse, let’s get together,” wrote a 30-year-old single guy from Midtown. He added, “Send me how you’d like to spend your last hours on earth — and a photo.”

Opening Bell: 4.21.15

Credit Suisse beats expectations; The club promoter turned trader; Larry Fink says NYC apartments > gold; "The crack is not for me it's for my wife"; and more.

Opening Bell: 12.28.12

Blackstone seen sticking with SAC despite insider trading probe (Reuters / Matthew Goldstein) Three sources said the asset management arm of Blackstone, which has $550 million invested with SAC Capital, is in no rush to redeem money from the Stamford, Connecticut-based hedge fund. Blackstone has had at least three discussions with the $14 billion hedge fund's executives about the insider trading investigation and talked to its own investors, which include state pension funds, endowments and wealthy individuals. Hitler parody leaves French bank BNP red-faced (IN24) French banking giant BNP was left red-faced this week after it emerged managers were shown a motivational video featuring a parody of a famous scene from the film "Downfall" in which Adolf Hitler is portrayed as the boss of Germany's Deutsche Bank. It’s a scene that has been parodied thousands of times before to comic effect. But it appears not many people have seen the funny side of one particular version made by executives of French bank BNP Paribas...In the video, which was shown to around 100 managers from around the world at a seminar in Amsterdam last year, Hitler is turned into a fuming boss of Germany’s Deutsche Bank reacting furiously to news that BNP has gained an edge in the foreign exchange market. But far from being motivated, many of the managers who saw the video were outraged. “We could not believe the bank had actually dared to do that – make an analogy between our competitors and the Nazi regime. It took us a few minutes to take it in,” one BNP employee told French daily Liberation, who revealed the story this week. “We were shocked. Nobody knew how to react. Some Jewish employees from the United States did not find it funny at all,” another employee told the paper. “If this video had been shown by an American bank it would have been a major scandal,” an angry BNP source added. Rather surprisingly the video is believed to have been uploaded to the bank’s internal Intranet site before the management realised it might prove embarrassing and quickly removed it. A spokeswoman for BNP told FRANCE 24 on Friday that the bank’s senior management were totally unaware the video had been made until they were contacted by Libération this week. The spokeswoman said BNP’s CEO Jean Laurent Bonnafé had called his counterpart at Deutsche Bank Jürgen Fitschen to personally apologise for the stunt. In a statement in Libération the bank added that the message in the video was “contrary to the values of BNP." Obama Summons Congress Leaders as Budget Deadline Nears (Bloomberg) Obama, who had been negotiating one-on-one with House Speaker John Boehner, will meet today with Republicans Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats. Cliff Talks Down To The Wire (WSJ) It is still possible the two sides can reach a deal, especially with the leaders meeting Friday. Any resolution would be a scaled-back version of the package Mr. Obama and congressional leaders had anticipated passing after the November election. The White House is pressing for the Senate to extend current tax rates for income up to $250,000, extend unemployment benefits, keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting millions of additional taxpayers and delay spending cuts set to take effect in January. The 11th-hour strategy carries enormous risk because it leaves no margin for error in Congress's balky legislative machinery. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said the prospects for passage of a bill before the last day of the year are fading rapidly. "I have to be very honest," he said. "I don't know time-wise how it can happen now." Spain's PM does not rule out asking for European aid (Reuters) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Friday he did not rule out tapping the European Central Bank's bond-buying program for troubled euro zone governments but said Spain did not expect to have to ask for aid for now. "We are not thinking of asking the European Central Bank to intervene and buy bonds in the secondary market," he said at a news conference in Madrid. "But we can't rule it out in the future." Banks pay $4.5M for muni charges (NYP) Citigroup and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch are among five firms that will pay $4.48 million to settle regulatory claims they used funds from municipal and state bond deals to pay lobbyists. Local authorities were unfairly asked to reimburse payments that the firms made over five years to the California Public Securities Association, a lobbying group, to help influence the state, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which oversees securities firms, said yesterday. The firms inadequately described the fees, wrapping them into bond-underwriting expenses, Finra said...The banks, also including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, agreed to pay $3.35 million in fines and reimburse certain California bond issuers $1.13 million. Porsche Wins Dismissal of US Hedge Fund Lawsuit Over VW (Reuters) A five-justice panel of the New York State appeals court in Manhattan unanimously found that Porsche had met its "heavy burden" to establish that the state was the wrong place in which to bring the lawsuit. That panel reversed an Aug. 6 ruling by New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos that let the case by hedge funds including Glenhill Capital LP, David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital LP and Chase Coleman's Tiger Global LP proceed. The funds accused Porsche of engineering a "massive short squeeze" in October 2008 by quietly buying nearly all freely traded ordinary VW shares in a bid to take over the company, despite publicly stating it had no plans to take a 75 percent stake. IPOs Slump To Lowest Levels Since Financial Crisis (Bloomberg) IPOs have raised $112 billion worldwide this year, the least since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Initial sales in western Europe dropped to one-third of last year’s level, while concern about China’s economy helped cut proceeds in Asia by almost half. U.S. offerings raised $41 billion, little changed from last year, as Facebook’s IPO spurred a monthlong drought in U.S. deals. Avery Johnson Jr. vents on Twitter after dad, Avery Johnson, is fired by Brooklyn Nets (NYDN, RELATED) The ex-Nets coach’s teenage son took to Twitter to vent after news broke that his dad had been given a pink slip by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets. “This is a f------ Outrage. My dad is a great coach, he just got coach of the month and they Fire him. #Smh. Completely new team he had,” Johnson Jr. wrote on Twitter. “The expectations were way to high for this team. We didn’t even have a losing record.... Didn’t even give my dad a full season. #OUTRAGE,” Johnson Jr. continued. Johnson was fired a day after the new-look Nets fell to .500 following a listless road loss to the Bucks. The canning comes on the heels of Deron Williams saying he’s never been comfortable playing in Johnson’s offense. Williams, who did not play in Wednesday night’s loss, is mired in a season-long shooting slump with field goal and 3-point percentages at career-worst levels. “I’m sorry (our) best players couldn’t make open shots. Yeah that’s my dad’s fault totally,” Johnson Jr. tweeted. 'Whale' Capsized Banks' Rule Effort (WSJ) Wall Street banks entered 2012 confident they could stall a wave of rules that they feared would hurt profits. But they are ending the year largely resigned that their activities will be constrained and monitored more closely by the government. One big reason for the change: J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.76% & Co.'s "London whale" losses. The bad trades, ultimately resulting in about $6 billion in losses, disrupted the banks' campaign against the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, according to regulators, lawmakers and close observers of policy debates in Washington. The trades damaged the reputation of J.P. Morgan, which suffered less than other banks from the financial crisis, and its chief executive, James Dimon, during a crucial period of policy debate in Washington, putting critics of Dodd-Frank on the defensive. Before news of the whale losses emerged, banks were arguing, with some success, that too-tight regulations were crimping lending during a time of slow growth. Michael Greenberger, a finance professor at the University of Maryland and an advocate of regulations aimed at reining in bank trading, said that in early 2012 his allies' "backs were against the wall." "Then the London whale blew all of that out of the water," he said. Mortgages Fueled Hedge Funds To 13.9 Percent Gain (NYP) Hedge funds that invest in mortgage-backed securities gained 13.9 percent through November to make them the industry’s best-performing strategy, according to the Absolute Return index. Top players that did even better included Metacapital Management, Pine River, Axonic Capital, and Greg Lippman's LibreMax Capital. High-Speed Traders Race to Fend Off Regulators (WSJ) Defenders say high-frequency trading keeps markets lubricated with a constant supply of buy and sell orders that enables all participants to trade more efficiently and get better pricing. High-speed traders, supporters add, have helped foster competition among exchanges and other trading venues, lowering commission-based fees for small investors and helping bring down overall costs for mutual-fund managers. Another benefit some cite: Technology innovations spurred by high-speed traders serve to connect more investors to more trading venues, broadening their options in the markets. Critics, for their part, worry that the traders' order torrent makes markets more opaque, less stable and ultimately less fair. Will 'Fiscal Clif' Accelerate Millionaire Deaths? (NetNet) John Carney: "...it at least seems likely that some deaths that might otherwise have occurred shortly after January 1 will occur shortly before." Man gets DUI after driving on AA co-founder's lawn (AP) Vermont State Police say a man faces a drunken driving charge after driving onto the lawn of a historic home once owned by the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Police say 55-year-old Donald Blood III of Marlborough, Mass., was ordered to appear in court in Bennington on Jan. 14. Police say Blood thought he was driving into a parking lot, but actually it was the lawn of the Wilson House, built in 1852 in Dorset, the birthplace of AA co-founder Bill Wilson. The Wilson House's website describes it as a "place of sanctuary where people can come to give thanks to God for their new lives." It still hosts several AA meetings each week. Programming Note< : We’re on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule this week (opening news roundups and limited updates whenever the urge to reach out and touch you moves us). We still want to hear from you, though, so if anything happens that you think might tickle our fancy, do not hesitate to let us know.