Opening Bell: 5.11.17

Tax reform is headed the way of the Comey; hedge fund traders probed for fibbing about bonds; porn star vs sharks, round two; and more.
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Comey Firing Distracts Trump White House, Putting Agenda at Risk (BBG)
Democrats, furious over the firing even though many of them had lambasted Comey for publicly discussing the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton last year, predicted legislative work would cease. "Senate needs to focus on the constitutional crisis Trump created, not business as usual," Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, said on Twitter.

‘Brexit’ Imperils London’s Claim as Banker to the Planet (NYT)
On a recent afternoon at Citigroup’s headquarters, traders sit at banks of computer screens watching prices in markets scattered from Shanghai to São Paulo. A Swedish trader helps a money manager in Paris place a complicated bet that German government bonds will fall. “There’s about 10 questions that immediately come to mind as to whether we could execute that trade in London after Brexit,” Jerome Kemp, Citi’s global head of futures, says.

Hedge Funds Facing U.S. Criminal Probe Over Bond Valuations (BBG)
Having prosecuted traders who lied to customers about bond prices, the government is now scrutinizing hedge funds that allegedly solicited bogus price quotes from brokers, according to three people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. Such a practice would have enabled the funds to pump up the value of illiquid securities on their books.

Bond Traders' Bonuses Set to Rise 15% as Banks Resume Big Raises (BBG)
The reversal for bond traders in recent months contrasts with the situation facing some of their biggest clients. Hedge funds and asset managers will generally hold pay flat this year, according to estimates released Wednesday. Both of those groups have cut incentive pay the past few years, the firm’s data show.

The Volcker Rule: How Trump’s New Regulator May Unleash Big Banks (WSJ)
“There’s a lot that can be done” by the five agencies that enforce the rule, acting comptroller of the currency Keith Noreika said. Then he added: “I hope we don’t have to get to this, but there could be things that could be done even by our agency unilaterally if we had to,” such as “reinterpreting what is proprietary trading. [...] The ultimate problem with the Volcker rule is no one knows what prop trading is,” he said.

The Best Unknown Indicator (Macro Tourist)
Over the years I have learned the hard way not to fade Yardeni’s model. It doesn’t mean stocks cannot decline, but until I see either the industrial commodities roll over (and not just Chinese Iron ore), or employment claims skyrocket, I will avoid calling for a big crash. It’s tough for me to put this down on paper, but really, the proper bet is to assume Yardeni’s model will once again prove correct, and buy stocks.

Whole Foods announces new CFO amid board shakeup (NYP)
Just one month after Barry Rosenstein’s activist hedge fund Jana Partners announced an 8.3 percent stake in Whole Foods, the high-end grocer on Wednesday announced a laundry list of changes — including a new chief financialofficer and five new board members.

Transcript: Interview with Donald Trump (Economist)
TRUMP: Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?
THE ECONOMIST: Priming the pump?
TRUMP: Yeah, have you heard it?
ECONOMIST: Yes.
TRUMP: Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just… I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.
ECONOMIST: It’s…
TRUMP: Yeah, what you have to do is you have to put something in before you can get something out.

Trump Administration, Senators Put Fannie, Freddie Overhaul Back in Play (WSJ)
The Senate Banking Committee has begun behind-the-scenes work on the issue of how, exactly, to revamp the companies. The senators want to develop a framework to decrease the government’s outsize role backstopping the nation’s $10 trillion mortgage market. On Thursday, the panel will hear testimony from Mel Watt, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which controls Fannie and Freddie, in the first step of a process that could play out in the coming months.

Porn Star Molly Cavalli Accused Of Faking Shark Attack For Viral Glory (HuffPo)
Bryce Rohrer, owner and operator of Florida Shark Diving, told the Palm Beach Post that Cavalli and her crew contacted him two months ago about doing a shark dive and faking an injury. “I was talking directly to Molly and she just said, ‘Hey, we are looking to do a shoot faking a shark bite and it’s strictly in order for it to go viral,’” Rohrer said. “We immediately declined. We are pro-shark, pro-wildlife, and want to show the importance of sharks, not villainize them.”

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Opening Bell: 12.13.17

Big upset in Alabama senate race; Google looms over Fidelity; bitcoin shorts only cost you 5x leverage; Dina Powell eyes a return to Goldman; don't check your phone while running from the police; and more.

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Opening Bell: 12.20.17

The Winklevii have been officially redeemed; the bond trader bonus doughnut; Wall Street is ambivalent on the tax bill; insider trading at Coinbase?; drive-thru funerals; and more.

Opening Bell: 04.03.13

Barclays High-Pay Culture Brought Disrepute: Report (WSJ) Barclays PLC suffered from "a lack of self-awareness" in recent years as a culture of high pay and short-term incentives brought the bank into disrepute, according to an independent report by lawyer and investment banker Anthony Salz. The Salz Review, which was commissioned by Barclays' former chairman after the bank admitted to trying to rig interbank interest rates last summer, describes how in about 10 years the lender expanded to become a disparate set of businesses, each with its own culture. "The result of this growth was that Barclays became complex to manage," the report published Wednesday said. "Despite some attempts to establish group-wide values, the culture that emerged tended to favor transactions over relationships, the short term over sustainability, and financial over other business purposes." The 235-page report—which cost Barclays about £17 million ($25.7 million) to have produced—recommended a series of reforms aimed at trying to foster a common sense of purpose across the bank. To this end, Barclays' board must play a more active role in overseeing the business and Barclays' human resources department must be given more power to stand up on issues such as pay, the report said. Ex-Goldman Sachs Trader Taylor Said to Surrender to FBI (Bloomberg) Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. traderMatthew Taylor planned to surrender today to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a person familiar with the matter said. Taylor was accused Nov. 8 by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission of concealing an $8.3 billion position in 2007 that caused New York-based Goldman Sachs to lose $118 million. Morgan Stanley hired Taylor in March 2008, less than three months after Goldman Sachs disclosed in a public filing that he had been fired for building an “inappropriately large” proprietary trading position. Cyprus Bailout Details Emerge After IMF Deal (WSJ) The IMF statement set out the tough terms the tiny nation of 800,000 has to meet to get the bailout, calling the task ahead "challenging." Cyprus, an economy of roughly €17 billion in annual output, needs to push through cuts and savings worth 4.5% of gross domestic product by 2018 to hit a primary-surplus target of 4% of GDP outlined in the bailout deal, the IMF statement said. These cuts will come on top of savings worth 5% of GDP the government is already implementing through to 2015. An extra 2% of GDP in extra revenue will come from an increase in the country's corporate tax from 10% to 12.5% and an increase in the tax on interest income from 15% to 30%. The country's corporate-tax rate will remain among the lowest in Europe, on an equal footing with Ireland's, and will allow Cyprus to continue to use its tax regime to attract businesses, but the increase in withholding tax will make it substantially less attractive as a place for individuals to leave their savings. Cyprus Leader Invites Family Firm Probe (FT) Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades has urged judges investigating the country's banking disaster to examine transactions handled by his family law firm as "a priority" in a bid to defuse public anger over last-minute transfers by well-connected Cypriots, Russians and Ukrainians who thereby avoided a "haircut" on their uninsured deposits. The move followed questions over whether a company managed by the president's son-in-law made use of inside information to transfer more than 20 million euros out of Laiki Bank days before its collapse. Marc Lasry In French Follies (NYP) Lasry, the CEO and co-founder of Avenue Capital, is on his way to getting a plum assignment as the US ambassador to France as a reward for his many years as a big Democratic fundraiser. But the Moroccan-born, French-speaking American could encounter some uncomfortable moments when he lands in Paris, given his views on the land of fine wine, crusty baguettes — and European socialism. “We don’t invest in France,” he said at a New York hedge-fund conference sponsored by French bank BNP in June 2010, even apologizing to his hosts as he made the comment. Lasry, who is a bankruptcy lawyer by training, loves to chide other countries for their creditor-unfriendly ways. His $11.7 billion distressed debt fund buys up beaten-down credits of companies headed towards bankruptcy, with the payout determined by their ranking in the process. That can be dicey in countries like France, he explained at the BNP conference, as “the legal system is very much tilted towards helping unions and workers.” As a result, he said, “you might find your claim disallowed.” 1,000 pot plants seized in Queens in warehouse raid (NYDN) A massive drug operation went up in smoke Tuesday when law enforcement officials raided an indoor marijuana farm in Queens. Authorities seized more than 1,000 pot plants - along with grow lights and other gear - from the 44th Rd. warehouse in Long Island City just after 3 p.m. , police sources said. Officials from the NYPD, state police and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency also rounded up five suspects in the sweep. New York-for-Buenos Aires Swap Theory Spreads: Argentina Credit (Bloomberg) Argentina’s refusal to improve its offer to holders of defaulted debt suing for full payment in the U.S. is deepening speculation that the nation will sever ties with the overseas bond market. The proposal submitted on March 29 mimics the terms of Argentina’s 2005 and 2010 debt exchanges, a move that could lead to a default on the restructured notes unless the country removes them from U.S. jurisdiction. BofA Chief Moynihan Said to Summon Managers for Revenue Push (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan has summoned more than 100 of his regional leaders to a private meeting today where they’ll be pushed to boost the lender’s flagging revenue, said two people with direct knowledge of the project. Managers at the two-day event in Chicago will be judged on how much progress they’ve made in helping to sell more products to the 53 million customers of the second-biggest U.S. lender, said the people, who asked for anonymity because Moynihan’s plan hasn’t been made public. Revenue has dropped every year of Moynihan’s three-year tenure as he sold assets, repaired the firm’s balance sheet and settled more than $40 billion in claims tied to defective mortgages. Private Sector Adds 158,000 Jobs (WSJ) Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected ADP to report a gain of 192,000 private jobs. However, the February job gain was revised up to 237,000 from 198,000 reported a month ago. SEC Embraces Social Media (WSJ) In a ruling that portends changes to how companies communicate with investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday that postings on sites such as Facebook and Twitter are just as good as news releases and company websites as long as the companies have told investors which outlets they intend to use. Gray seal pup saved from death on Montauk beach now recovering (NYDN) The three-month-old seal, underweight at 40 pounds, is now resting in one of the foundation's rehabilitation tanks at the Atlantic Marine World aquarium in Riverhead. "She feels very sassy in her tank and doesn't appreciate anything we are doing for her," laughed Kimberly Durham, director of the rescue program, "which is a good sign. A nasty seal is a good sign that she is getting better because they are wild animals.

moynihan

Opening Bell: 12.6.17

Brian Moynihan is feeling glum again; tax lawyers are licking their chops in advance of tax reform; wherefore art thou, buybacks?; beware the dreaded coywolf; and more.

Opening Bell: 12.21.12

Critics Say UBS Let Off Too Easy (WSJ) Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said Wednesday after the $1.5 billion fine against UBS was announced. Prosecutors have to at least "evaluate whether or not innocent people might lose jobs" and other types of potential collateral damage. Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), a Senate Finance Committee member, said he is unsatisfied that prosecutors didn't go higher up the corporate ladder at UBS than its Japanese subsidiary..."The reluctance of U.S. prosecutors to file criminal charges over big-time bank fraud is frustrating and hard to understand," Mr. Grassley said. The $1.5 billion fine is a "spit in the ocean compared to the money lost by borrowers at every level, including taxpayers." Regulatory 'Whale' Hunt Advances (WSJ) The first regulatory ripples from the "London Whale" trading fiasco are about to hit J.P. Morgan Chase. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, led by Comptroller Thomas Curry, is preparing to take a formal action demanding that J.P. Morgan remedy the lapses in risk controls that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up losses of more than $6 billion this year, according to people familiar with the company's discussions with regulators. Khuzami To Leave SEC Enforcement Post (WSJ) Robert Khuzami, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit, plans to leave the agency as soon as next month, a person familiar with the expected move said Thursday. Boehner Drops ‘Plan B’ as Budget Effort Turns to Disarray (Bloomberg) House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million, yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party and throwing already-stalled budget talks deeper into turmoil. He will hold a news conference today at 10 a.m. Washington time to discuss the next steps in the budget dispute, a Republican leadership aide said. House members and senators won’t vote on the end-of-year budget issues until after Christmas, giving them less than a week to reach agreement to avert tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. The partisan divide hardened yesterday, making the path to a deal more uncertain. BlackRock Sees Distortions in Country Ratings Seeking S&P Change (Bloomberg) Credit rating companies are distorting capital markets by assigning the same debt ranking to countries from Italy to Thailand and Kazakhstan, according to BlackRock, the world’s biggest money manager. While 23 countries share the BBB+ to BBB- levels assessed by Standard & Poor’s, the lowest investment grades, up from 15 in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis, their debt to gross domestic product ratios range from 12 percent for Kazakhstan to 44 percent for Thailand and 126 percent for Italy, International Monetary Fund estimates show. The cost of insuring against a default by Italy, ranked BBB+, over the next five years is almost triple that for Thailand, which has the same rating. For BlackRock, which oversees $3.7 trillion in assets, the measures are so untrustworthy that the firm is setting up its own system to gauge the risk of investing in government bonds. This year, the market moved in the opposite direction suggested by changes to levels and outlooks 53 percent of the time, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “The rating agencies were very, very slow to the game,” Benjamin Brodsky, a managing director at BlackRock International Ltd., said in a Nov. 23 interview from London. “They all came after the fact. For us, this is not good enough.” If You Bought Greek Bonds in January You Earned 80% (Bloomberg) Greek government bonds returned 80 percent this year, compared with 3.7 percent for German bunds and 6.1 percent for Spanish securities, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. It’s the first year since 2009 that investors made money on Greek securities, with 2012 providing the biggest advance since Merrill began compiling the data in 1998, according to figures that don’t reflect this month’s debt buyback by the government. Texas lawmaker: ‘Ping-pongs’ deadlier than guns (The Ticket) Incoming Texas State Rep. Kyle Kacal says guns don’t kill people—ping-pong kills people. "I've heard of people being killed playing ping-pong—ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns," he says. "Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything." The lifetime rancher, who will take his seat in 2013 as a freshman, says that new gun restrictions are unnecessary. Kacal, who reportedly operates a hunting business, notably came out against a bill instructing Texans how to secure their assault weapons. "People know what they need to do to be safe. We don't need to legislate that—it's common sense," he said. "Once everyone's gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone's gun is locked up." Flare-up in war of words between Ackman, Herbalife (NYP) “This is the highest conviction I’ve ever had about any investment I’ve ever made,” Ackman said yesterday in a series of interviews. The investor told CNBC that he expects the Federal Trade Commission will take a “hard look” at the company. The heavyweight battle picked up steam over the last two days and has become, in the typically slow days leading up to Christmas, one of the most-watched events on Wall Street. As the financial world watched, Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson returned fire — calling Ackman’s statements “bogus” and asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the motives of Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital hedge fund. A spokeswoman said if Johnson were allowed the chance to face-off against the investor at the Downtown conference, the CEO “would have been able to tear Mr. Ackman’s premises and interpretation of our business model apart.” Citigroup Said to Give CCA Managers 75% Stake in Funds for Free (Bloomberg) Among Vikram Pandit’s last jobs as Citigroup’s chief executive officer was to decide the fate of the bank’s hedge-fund unit, which employs some of his oldest colleagues. He agreed to give them most of it for free. While Citigroup is keeping a 25 percent stake, managers at the Citi Capital Advisors unit will pay nothing for the remaining 75 percent of that business as it becomes a new firm managing as much as $2.5 billion of the bank’s money, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The lender will pay the executives fees while gradually pulling out assets to comply with impending U.S. rules, said the people, who requested anonymity because the terms aren’t public. The deal was Citigroup’s response to the Volcker rule. Peter Madoff Is Sentenced to 10 Years for His Role in Fraud (Dealbook) A lawyer by training, Peter Madoff is the second figure in the scandal to be sentenced. His older brother, Bernard, pleaded guilty in March 2009 and is serving a prison term of 150 years. UK Boom in Pound Shops: An Austerity-Proof Business Model? (CNBC) Pound shops in the U.K. are reporting massive increases in profits across the board showing that the formula "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" has particular resonance in Britain's current age of austerity. Names like "Poundstretcher," "Poundland" and "99p Stores" in the U.K. have become high street stalwarts as other brands go bust. The chains, immediately recognizable on price point, are opening new stores and reporting record results reflecting the increasing public demand for cheaper goods. U.K. based "Poundland" is one such chain reporting steep sales growth as its range of 3,000 items -- from umbrellas and pregnancy tests (it sells 14,000 a week) to bird feeders and bags of crisps all priced at one pound – resonates with cash-strapped Britons. In the year to April 2012, the Warburg Pincus owned company said its turnover increased 22 percent to 780 million pounds ($1.25 billion) and profits increased by 50 percent to 18.3 million pounds from last year's figure of 12.2 million. Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton admits to life as a $600-an-hour hooker (NYP) Steamy, lingerie-clad images of the champion runner helped tout her services on the Web site of a Vegas escort agency called Haley Heston’s Private Collection, where Favor Hamilton operated under the name “Kelly Lundy,” according to The Smoking Gun. Customers could hire her lithe Olympic-class runner’s body for $600 an hour, $1,000 for two hours and $6,000 for 24 hours. The site described her build as “athletic,” her bosom as “perky,” and her belly button as “pierced.” She was willing to provide horny customers the full “girlfriend experience,” and would also engage in a certain undisclosed sex act for an extra $300. “I enjoy men of all shapes, sizes and colors, and I have an affinity for women (I am bisexual),” “Kelly” wrote on her page on the escort service’s Web site. “I consider dates with couples an experience to cherish.” Her sexual skills reportedly earned her a high rating on The Erotic Review, a Web site frequented by prostitution fans. Favor Hamilton’s lusty secret life might have stayed secret if she had not made the mistake of revealing her true identity to some of her wealthy johns, who went to the media.