Opening Bell: 5.22.17

Steve Schwarzman finds $20 billion in Saudi Arabia; Ford trades in for a new CEO; Trump gropes the orb of power; and more.
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By Lishabai Yi (Middle Kingdom Media Ltd.) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Lishabai Yi (Middle Kingdom Media Ltd.) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saudis’ $20 Billion Wager With Blackstone Marks Record Bet on U.S. Public Works (WSJ)
Saudi Arabia’s planned $20 billion investment alone would be about 25% larger than the biggest infrastructure fund ever raised, a $15.8 billion pool Global Infrastructure Partners completed earlier this year. [RELATED: Top executives who descended on Riyadh for a CEO summit timed to coincide with Trump’s visit included JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, Blackstone Group LP CEO Steve Schwarzman, and Marillyn Hewson, the CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp.]

The Quants Run Wall Street Now (WSJ)
“You take tours of offices, and everyone is always pointing out some guy off in a corner, working on his own,” says Alexandru Agachi, chief operating officer at Empiric Capital Ltd., a startup quant hedge fund in London. “They say with pride: ‘Over there is our quant. He’s building signals.’”

Ford to fire CEO Fields as challenges mount (Reuters)
Ford Motor Co. is set to replace Chief Executive Mark Fields with James Hackett, the head of its mobility arm, company sources said, responding to growing investor unease over the U.S. carmaker's stock performance and prospects. The departure of Fields, 56, is likely to be announced on Monday, the sources said, adding Hackett, 62-year-old head of the division responsible for autonomous driving, would take the helm in a broader shake-up aimed at speeding up decision making and improving execution.

Commodity Traders Have a Really Big Problem (BBG)
“The most valuable commodity out there is information, and the most useful information is the proprietary, critical information that you obtain from your own supply chain,” said John Driscoll, the chief strategist at JTD Energy Services Pte, who has spent more than 30 years in the petroleum trading industry in Singapore. “You have to have skin in the game. You have to have access to assets, whether it’s infrastructure, terminals, vessels or refineries.”

One In Three Students Willing To Use Sex To Finance Their Studies (UK Independent)
Of the 920 participants who answered the question: “How far would you have gone for a free education supplied by someone who you were attracted to?”, 75 per cent said they would have at least given up some of their time to a sugar daddy figure.

Barclays tightens email security after Jes Staley hoax (FT)
After a bruising annual meeting this month, Barclays’ chief executive Jes Staley replied to an email purporting to be from John McFarlane, which was in fact from a disaffected Barclays customer using the Gmail account john.mcfarlane.barclays@gmail.com. To prevent a recurrence of the security lapse, Barclays has decided to activate a warning message whenever an employee sends a message to an external email address on a mobile device, which previously only happened on desktop computers.

Americans Are Paying $38 to Collect $1 of Student Debt (BBG)
Even when borrowers don't default, debt collection efforts often yield little. Close to 80 percent of borrowers who rehabilitate their debt make the minimum $5 monthly payment, according to a 2015 estimate. That means the Education Department is paying its debt collectors up to $1,710 per borrower to collect around $45, regardless of whether the borrower continues to make her payments.

Barclays to hire 100 staff in private banking push (Reuters)
The push marks a change in direction for the British lender after a previous failed expansion ended in 2014 with Barclays folding its wealth management business back into its retail bank as it missed ambitious growth targets. [...] "It's an unforgiving and brutal market at the moment, with a very expensive delivery model and competition that's driving pricing down," said Seb Dovey, managing partner and private banking expert at Scorpio Partnership.

Donald Trump Gropes Orb of Power (Jezebel)
Maybe the Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology only has one orb left and these three men all want it. Maybe Trump’s been led to think the orb has magical powers. That is definitely the face of a man who believes he will soon be growing his own hair again. Or, could it be that Trump was lured to the center in the first place by the promise of getting to do freaky orb stuff? The US President is moaning loudly, rhythmically, and everyone around him is pretending not to notice. [COUNTERPOINT: The Trump administration, lookism, and the Saudis]

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By Lishabai Yi (Middle Kingdom Media Ltd.) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 6.6.17

Steve Schwarzman misses all the brave old people in finance; Harvard endowment dumps Eric Mindich; sex in space would be a bodily horror; and more.

By Lishabai Yi (Middle Kingdom Media Ltd.) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 5.3.17

Steve Schwarzman wants better PR; London greets Ackman with stiff upper lip; man honors friend by flushing him down every toilet in baseball; and more.

(Getty Images)

Opening Bell: 5.24.17

Moody's downgrades China; Ford's ex-CEO got booted over Trump tantrum; Uber, bitcoin called ponzi schemes; there is a blind baseball announcer; and more.

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Opening Bell: 6.29.16

Moody's downgrades 12 UK banks; Soros bets against Deutsche Bank; Saudi Arabia beating off bankers with a stick; Cops say woman wielded hatchet after her demands for sex were rebuffed; and more.

FidelitySign

Opening Bell: 10.23.17

Fidelity managers aren't very nice; Saudi Arabia regrets Uber investment; Jordan Belfort thinks ICOs are a scam; the universe shouldn't exist; and more.

Opening Bell: 03.09.12

US Adds 227,000 Jobs (WSJ) U.S. job creation remained solid in February and was stronger in previous months than initially thought, marking one of the economy's best stretches of the nearly three-year-old recovery. Jobs outside of agriculture grew by 227,000 last month, the Labor Department said Friday. Meanwhile, employers added 284,000 jobs in January—roughly 40,000 higher than an initial estimate—and job creation was also revised higher for December. Overall, the economy has added an average 245,000 jobs over the past three months—more than double the pace of job creation between May and November. The unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, remained at 8.3%, as both hiring and the number of job seekers increased. Greece Passes Key Debt Test (WSJ) Just over 80% of Greece's private-sector creditors had agreed by a Thursday evening deadline to turn in their bonds for new ones with less than half the face value, touching off a massive debt swap that marks a seminal moment in Europe's long-frustrated efforts to rescue its most financially vulnerable nation. The Greek government announced the results of its proposed restructuring early Friday morning. It said 83% of bondholders had voluntarily submitted to the deal, and that it would invoke so-called collective-action clauses to impose the exchange on most of the rest, bringing participation up to 96%. Citigroup Gives Vikram Pandit $14.9 Million 2011 Pay Package (Bloomberg) The bank said it gave Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit $14.9 million in total compensation for 2011, including his first bonus since the lender almost collapsed in 2008. The package included $1.67 million of salary and a $5.33 million cash bonus, the New York-based lender said yesterday in a regulatory filing. The award reflects Citigroup’s return to profitability under Pandit, who became CEO in December 2007, the bank’s personnel and compensation committee said in the filing. The payout also rewards his performance last year, which he spent grappling with a revenue slump as the European sovereign-debt crisis roiled markets. DA putting the screws to 'brothel boss' Anna Gristina (NYP) They pressed her over and over, pushed a list of 10 Big Apple power players at her — and demanded she spill the beans on the roster of real-estate moguls and investment bankers. “Some I knew, some I didn’t,” accused Upper East Side brothel boss Anna Gristina told The Post yesterday about an hours-long grilling she received from Manhattan prosecutors. But they kept pressing, bringing in more and more investigators to intimidate her. “In effect, it was, ‘Tell us what we want, and we’ll let you go,’ ” Gristina said. But her defiance, she believes, is what led them to charge her with a single count of prostitution. And that’s when she realized she must be part of a much larger investigation. “It’s not about me; it’s bigger than me,” Gristina said during an exclusive interview at Rikers Island, where she remains jailed. “They’re trying to sweat me out. They are clearly trying to break me.” The self-described “hockey mom” and real-estate developer claims to have no idea why prosecutors are so intent on digging up dirt on those men — half of whom she said she knew as either friends or business associates. “I’d bite my tongue off before I’d tell them anything,” Gristina vowed. Nasdaq, NYSE still fighting over Facebook listing (NYP) The chief executives of both exchanges are said to have taken the rare move of personally appearing at pitch meetings..."The history would go toward Nasdaq, but the trend is toward the NYSE," said the co-head of NYSE's listings business, Scott Cutler. Meanwhile, his Nasdaq counterpart, Robert McCooey, shot back, "Just because someone climbs to the highest mountain and shouts that they're the home for technology doesn't mean they're the home for technology. Just because I could say 'I'm 6 foot 2 and I look like Brad Pitt' doesn't mean it's true." Banks foreclosing on churches in record numbers (Reuters) The surge in church foreclosures represents a new wave of distressed property seizures triggered by the 2008 financial crash, analysts say, with many banks no longer willing to grant struggling religious organizations forbearance. Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group. In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar. That compares to just 24 sales in 2008 and only a handful in the decade before. BofA Makes Mortgage Deal (WSJ) More than 200,000 financially strapped households will have a chance to sharply reduce their mortgage balances under a side deal negotiated by Bank of America Corp. that could allow the bank to avoid as much as $850 million in penalties. Under the arrangement, part of the recent $25 billion settlement of alleged foreclosure abuses between government officials and five large lenders, Bank of America will make deeper and broader cuts in balances than other banks. The plan will offer qualifying borrowers a chance to cut their mortgage balances to their home's current market value. Other banks are required under the national settlement to cut principal to no more than 120% of the home's value. Donald Trump, pal of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, would love to see Peyton Manning play for the Miami Dolphins (NYDN) “First of all (Dolphins owner) Steve Ross is a very good friend of mine,” Trump bellowed before a roomful of reporters and TV cameras at the WGC Cadillac Championship, where Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy were fighting it out in the first round. “He’s a member of my club in Palm Beach and I think Peyton would be great for Miami. It would be a fantastic thing for this area...I’m a fan. I’m a friend. I did a commercial with Peyton and his brother for Oreo, which got the commercial of the year, and I think it was because of them, not of me. But I did a big commercial and it was an amazing commercial."

Opening Bell: 04.24.12

Dubai Debtors Go on Hunger Strike (FT) About 20 jailed foreign businessmen have gone on hunger strike in Dubai to protest against lengthy sentences for writing checks that bounced, a criminal offence in the United Arab Emirates. “I’ve exhausted every avenue that I can see,” Peter Margetts, 48, a former property developer, told the Financial Times from a prison pay phone. “I’ve exhausted the legal system, the lawyers have their hands tied here and they’re not going to rock the boat.” Mr. Margetts is one of three British prisoners who started a hunger strike on Sunday. Other jailed businessmen come from Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, India and Pakistan. Many of the hunger strikers fell victim to Dubai’s once-thriving real estate market, struggling to meet their payments when boom turned to bust in 2008. Twelve face sentences of more than 20 years because each bounced check can translate into a jail term of up to three years. Wall Street Promotes Junk Bonds as Europe Erupts (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley said last week that U.S. high-yield obligations were in a “sweet spot” as borrowers cut their debt loads. JPMorgan said junk yields will fall more than half a percentage point by year-end. Bank of America favors debentures rated in the middle tier of speculative grade. Gains on U.S. high-yield, high-risk bonds, which are little changed since the end of February, are set to accelerate as central banks respond more aggressively to contain Europe’s fiscal imbalances, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan said. While forecasting the default rate will rise this year, Moody’s Investors Service says the figure will stay below historic averages. Facebook's Growth Slows (WSJ) In what is likely to be the last snapshot of its financial condition before the expected May IPO, Facebook disclosed Monday that its first-quarter profit and revenue declined from the final quarter of 2011...The company's first-quarter revenue was $1.06 billion, down 6% from the December quarter. In a regulatory filing, the company blamed the decline on "seasonal trends" in the advertising business and user growth in markets where Facebook generates less revenue per user. CIT Group Swings To A Loss (WSJ) CIT Group, the business lender that emerged from bankruptcy more than two years ago, posted a wider-than-expected loss of $446.5 million in the first quarter as costs tied to debt repayments weighed on earnings. CIT's lending activity increased, though, and its profit margins on loans improved from a year earlier, a trend that should continue as its efforts to slash debt helps reduce its funding costs in the long run. "We made further progress this quarter positioning CIT for profitability and growth," John Thain, the long-time Wall Street executive who took the helm of CIT in 2010, said in a statement. Harbinger Pays Early (AP) Phil Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners made a $48 million payment on its $190 million loan from Jefferies Group, avoiding a forced sale of assets of his hedge fund, according to a person familiar with the fund. The payment was made a week early and a half million dollars more than what’s due on April 30. Falcone raised money for the loan by selling some investments, said the person. Father And Son Ran 'Brothel On Wheels' (NYP) A father and son from Queens ran a lucrative — and cruel — brothel on wheels for two decades, using six livery drivers to deliver hookers to hotels and apartments, Manhattan prosecutors said today in announcing the ring’s breakup...Johns on the go could purchase and enjoy a sex act without ever leaving the back seat, officials said of the operation, quoting the price scale at $200 to $500 per customer. Business was good — one woman alone allegedly earned half-a-million dollars for the father and son last year, and the Georges employed five women at the time of the bust, officials said. But as nice as they were to customers, the alleged father and son pimps were nasty to their prostitutes, threatening them, giving them little money so as to keep them helpless and even branding them with tattoos — including a bar code on one woman’s neck, according to officials. At least one of the women had a heart tattoo on her breast with the word “Vee,” which is the dad’s nickname. At least three of the women had tattoos featuring the son’s nickname, “King Koby.” Calpers Scalpers (NYP) The former head of the nation’s biggest pension defrauded funds run by private-equity titan Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management to pay a pal’s placement agencies $20 million, a lawsuit filed yesterday charged. Federico Buenrostro, the CEO of the $235 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System from 2002 to 2008, teamed up with buddy Alfred Villalobos’ Arvco Capital Research on a scheme to pocket the boatload of fees from Apollo, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged in a civil suit filed in a Nevada federal court. Villalobos was the deputy mayor of Los Angeles in 1993. It is charged that the two ginned up fake “disclosure letters” and sent them to Apollo, making it appear that Calpers OK’d the payment when, in fact, it had not. The two used the fake letters four times, the suit alleges. Judge: DA Can Subpoena Occupy Protester Tweets (NBC) A judge says an Occupy Wall Street protester can't stop prosecutors from getting his tweets as part of a case surrounding his arrest at a demonstration. A Manhattan criminal court judge ruled Friday there are reasonable grounds to believe the information is relevant. The judge also says Malcolm Harris can't legally challenge the subpoena sent to Twitter Inc., not him. Harris was among more than 700 demonstrators arrested Oct. 1 on the Brooklyn Bridge. Wal-Mart Said To Be Subject Of US Criminal Probe (Bloomberg) The Justice Department is investigating potential criminal charges under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to the person familiar with the probe who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about it. Wal-Mart is conducting its own review of allegations that its representatives paid local officials in Mexico to get stores opened faster in the early 2000s. Chris Christie Not Happy With NJ Nets Move To Brooklyn (NYDN) As the Nets were preparing their farewell, the Governor of New Jersey was kicking them out the door. “I’m not going to the Nets game tonight and my message to the Nets is ‘Goodbye,’ ” Christie said. “If you don’t want to stay, we don’t want you. Seriously, I’m not going to be in the business of begging people to stay here. That’s one of the most beautiful arenas in America that they’ve had a chance to play in. It’s in one of the country’s most vibrant cities. “They want to leave here and go to Brooklyn? Good riddance. See you later.”

Opening Bell: 01.14.13

Goldman May Delay UK Bonuses Until Top Tax Rate Falls (Reuters) Goldman Sachs is considering delaying bonus payments in the U.K. until after April 6, when the top rate of income tax in the country will drop to 45 percent, from 50 percent, a person familiar with the bank's operations said on Sunday. The strategy relates to bonuses that were deferred from 2009, 2010 and 2011, the person said. The Financial Times reported the news earlier today. JPMorgan Said to Weigh Disclosing Whale Report Faulting Dimon (Bloomberg) JPMorgan's board will consider releasing an internal report this week that faults Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon’s oversight of a division that lost more than $6.2 billion on botched trades, said two people with direct knowledge of the matter. The final report, which builds on a preliminary analysis released in July, is critical of senior managers including Dimon, 56, former Chief Financial Officer Doug Braunstein, 51, and ex-Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew, 56, for inadequately supervising traders in a U.K. unit that amassed an illiquid position in credit derivatives last year, the people said. The report, which isn’t complete, will be presented to the board when it meets tomorrow. The directors will then vote on whether to disclose it when the bank announces fourth-quarter results the following day, said the people, who asked not to be named because the report isn’t yet public. Morgan Stanley to trim Dubai staff amid global cuts (Reuters) "The Dubai cuts are part of the bank's global plan. Obviously, the bank is trying to focus on growth opportunities in the region and there has been little growth on the equities side barring Saudi," one of the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter has not been made public. Morgan Stanley's equities business will now focus on Saudi Arabia, the source said, adding that planned cuts at other divisions in the Middle East were minimal. Hedge-Fund Leverage Rises to Most Since 2004 in New Year (Bloomberg) The rising use of borrowed money shows that everyone from the biggest firms to individuals is willing to take more risks after missing the rewards of the bull market that began in 2009. While leverage means bigger losses should stocks decline, investors are betting that record earnings and valuations 9.8 percent below the six-decade average will help push the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index toward the record it set in October 2007. “The first step of increasing risk is just going long, the second part of that is levering up in order to go longer,” James Dunigan, who helps oversee $112 billion as chief investment officer in Philadelphia for PNC Wealth Management, said in a Jan. 8 telephone interview. “Leverage increasing in the hedge-fund area suggests they’re now getting on board.” Goldman: Insurer Knew Paulson Was 'Shorting' (WSJ) Goldman Sachs on Friday fired back at a bond insurer suing it over a soured mortgage-linked deal, arguing in a court filing that ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. "cherry-picked" evidence to bolster its case. ACA in 2011 filed suit against Goldman in New York State Court, alleging Goldman misled it about a 2007 mortgage deal. ACA alleges that Goldman told it that one of Goldman's hedge-fund clients, Paulson & Co., was betting on the deal, when in fact Paulson was betting against it, according to an amended complaint the insurer is seeking to file. Had ACA known Paulson's true position, it never would have insured the deal, according to the amended complaint. Goldman countered in the Friday filing that ACA insured the deal knowing Paulson was betting against residential mortgage-backed securities at the time. ACA analyzed and chose the investments in the deal and should have been alerted by various "red flags" that Paulson wasn't betting on the investment, according to the filing. Primate found to be addicted to porn (NYDN) Gina, a resident of the Seville Zoo in Spain, chose to solely watch adult entertainment channels when a television and remote control was placed in her enclosure. Primatologist Pablo Herreros, writing in Spanish newspaper El Mundo, claimed he made the discovery some years ago on a tour of the nation's chimpanzee enclosures. During his research trip he conducted surveys on the behavior of the animals. Herreros wrote, “What I could never imagine were the surprises prepared for me by a female of this species called Gina who inhabited Seville Zoo.” To enliven Gina's nights, officials apparently decided to install a television, protected behind glass, and gave her a remote control so she could change the channels herself. And enliven herself she did. “The surprise was when they found that within a few days, Gina was not only using the remote control perfectly well, but that she also used to choose the porn channel for entertainment, as many of us would have done, ” Herreros wrote. “Although a small study estimated that porn films are only watched for about 12 minutes on average, the truth is that human and non-human primates possess an intense sexual life.” AIG Sues New York Fed... To Secure Right To Sue Bank Of America (Reuters) American International Group Inc has filed a lawsuit against a vehicle created by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to help bail out the insurer, in a bid to preserve its right to sue Bank of America Corp and other issuers of mortgage debt that went sour. The complaint filed in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeks a declaration that AIG has not transferred billions of dollars of "litigation claims" to Maiden Lane II, including many related to the insurer's $10 billion lawsuit against Bank of America. UK court approves ex-Credit Suisse trader's extradition to U.S. (Reuters) A British court on Monday approved the extradition of a former Credit Suisse trader to the United States, where he is wanted over a $540-million fraud dating back to the subprime mortgage crisis. The case of Kareem Serageldin will now be sent to Home Secretary Theresa May, the interior minister, who under British law has the final say over extraditions to the United States. She is expected to give the green light for the transfer to take place. Serageldin, 39, the Swiss bank's former global head of structured credit, is accused of artificially inflating the prices of mortgage-backed bonds between August 2007 and February 2008, when their real value was plummeting. Equities Bear Brunt of Wall Street Job Cuts on Volume (Bloomberg) Employees on stocks desks fell by 8.5 percent globally in the first nine months of last year, according to a survey by Coalition Ltd., an industry analytics firm. That compares with a 6.6 percent drop in fixed-income workers and a 5.8 percent decrease for origination and advisory functions, the data show. Banks Find Promise Unfulfilled in China Forays (WSJ) Global firms sold about US$44 billion worth of shares in Asian financial institutions in 2012 to institutional investors or other strategic buyers, up from US$32.7 billion in 2011, according to data provider Dealogic. The retreat is gathering pace as a host of new regulations, including the so-called Basel III capital rules, make holding minority stakes in financial institutions more expensive. Thousands Participate In Annual No Pants Subway Ride (CBS) Organizers arranged that starting at 3 p.m., people got on trains at six different stops across the city, took off their pants and put them into their backpack. Participants then acted as if everything was completely normal as they rode on to Union Square. Participants are asked to don typical winter wear such as coats, hats and gloves and act as if they don’t know other pantsless riders, according to organizers. The group said it was just all in good fun. “People are willing to give basically their Sunday afternoon to take off their pants; to do something silly and fun, and you know, a good time,” one participant said. “It makes you feel invincible; superior, because nobody else has any idea what’s going on,” another said. There were no-pants subway rides in dozens of cities in 17 countries Sunday. In New York City, participants were happy it was rather warm. In prior years, the cold has bummed them out.