Opening Bell: 5.30.17

Steve Cohen found a nice big round number to aim for; Barney Frank says “all numbers are arbitrary”; there's now a Pissing Pug next to the Fearless Girl; and more.
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Steven Cohen’s Hedge-Fund Comeback Shoots for a Record Target: $20 Billion (WSJ)
The billionaire trader, whose former firm pleaded guilty to criminal insider trading charges less than four years ago, wants to amass that amount as part of a new operation that is likely to launch as soon as early 2018, he and his representatives have said in recent conversations with bankers, colleagues and potential investors. The $20 billion would exceed the assets once managed by SAC Capital Advisors LP, which at its height had $16 billion under management. It also would represent the biggest U.S. hedge-fund launch in history.

The Business of Litigation Finance Is Booming (BBG)
Burford’s investments show that litigation finance is not necessarily the Robin Hood affair that Pierce Sergenian advertises. “Corporate law departments and their law firms increasingly want to finance their litigation, just as other parts of the corporation finance their activities,” says Bogart.

The $50 Billion Question: What Makes a Bank Big? (WSJ)
Even many officials known for sparring with banks, including Daniel Tarullo, the Federal Reserve’s former top banking regulator, support raising the limit. So does Barney Frank, the former Democratic congressman who with former Democratic Senator Chris Dodd was the driving force behind Dodd-Frank. “All numbers are arbitrary, and in the rush, $50 billion seemed like a much bigger number,” Mr. Frank said in a recent interview.

Departures signal a changing of the guard in HFT (FT)
Cameron Smith, president of high-speed trader Quantlab Financial, one of the US equity market’s big traders, said last week that he was quitting after 10 years to “see what other fun is out there”. Daniel Coleman, the former head of KCG, and Eric Noll of Convergex are also leaving their roles, completing a trio of moves at a time when trading has not been bringing participants much joy.

Goldman Sachs Under Fire for Venezuela Bond Deal (WSJ)
Mr. Borges said the country’s opposition-controlled National Assembly—which he heads—would launch an investigation into the Goldman transaction. He also warned that any future opposition government “would not forget where Goldman Sachs stood when it had to choose between supporting the Maduro dictatorship and democracy for our country.”

The hidden dangers of passive investing (FT)
Passive dominance won’t happen overnight. Yet, left unchecked, the growth of index-trackers has the potential to erode the market-based economy, one industry at a time. The problem is that if the majority of us embrace them, index-trackers threaten to sabotage the entire economic system. Much like antibiotics, if passive funds are overused, they will create more problems than they solve.

COUNTERPOINT: The Worry About Indexing is Overblown (The Fat Pitch)
Regardless of how it is calculated, nearly 90% of equity shares are "managed" not "indexed." It's hard to say that indexing itself is significant enough to compress market movements.

Proust as speculator (Marginal Revolution)
Through a fast alternation of buying and selling, orders and counterorders, the end of 1911 marked Proust’s fastest plunge into debt exposure in his fifteen-year-long investing career. His patrimony amounted to about 1,522,000 francs, but more than 40 percent of it, precisely 640,000 francs, was tied up in forwards contracts—a crazy level of exposure for an amateur investor. In terms of American dollars, at this time Proust owned a personal fortune of $6,864,000 and had about $2,900,000 tied up in obligations to buy.

Bitcoin is outperforming major assets but hedge funds are still staying away from the cryptocurrency (CNBC)
"Bitcoin's extreme volatility doesn't sit well with managers working on a risk-adjusted return basis. Furthermore, there are valid concerns that digital currency assets can be hacked or stolen. Finally, there's a perception that bitcoin remains a niche, retail investment that does not yet demonstrate sufficient quality to be seriously considered for many reputable institutions,"

Money manager suing online troll to end ‘malicious’ rants (NYP)
In some of the posts, the troll refers to Star Mountain, a private equity firm that manages roughly $500 million and invests in companies with revenues of $10 million to $150 million, as a “scam” and a “fraud.” At least one of the posts referred to Hickey, who was born in Canada, as the “Canadian Bernie Madoff.”

Pissed off artist adds statue of urinating dog next to ‘Fearless Girl’ (NYP)
“This is corporate nonsense,” Gardega told The Post of Fearless Girl, saying it was put opposite artist Arturo Di Modica’s famed bull as a publicity stunt by a Boston-based financial firm. “It has nothing to do with feminism, and it is disrespect to the artist that made the bull,” he said. “That bull had integrity.”

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Opening Bell: 9.25.17

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

Opening Bell: 03.19.12

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

Opening Bell: 01.31.13

Deutsche Bank Swings To A $2.9 Billion Loss (WSJ) In the fourth quarter alone, the bank took €2.9 billion in charges, €1 billion of which was for "litigation-related charges." Mr. Jain said the charges "relate to developments in regulatory investigations and adverse court rulings which you are all familiar with," but didn't elaborate further. Deutsche Bank is currently embroiled in a number of legal disputes on both sides of the Atlantic, including the decade-long legal battle in the 2002 bankruptcy of Germany's Kirch Media Group. It is also among the banks that are under official investigation for allegedly rigging interbank benchmark rates, including the London Interbank Offered Rate. The rest of the quarter's charges were mainly related to losses from businesses bought before 2003, such as Bankers Trust and Scudder in the U.S., and impairments related to its investment in the Cosmopolitan Resort in Las Vegas and Maher Terminals in North America, which it put into an internal bad bank. The quarter's net loss of €2.17 billion compares with a profit of €147 million a year earlier. For the full year, net profit was €611 million, down from €4.13 billion. Deutsche Bank Beats Capital Goal as Jain Shrugs Off Loss (Bloomberg) “We’ve galvanized Deutsche Bank around the achievement of our capital targets,” Jain, 50, said on a conference call with analysts. The loss “reflects a number of decisions we took to position Deutsche Bank,” he said. Barclays, RBS May Pay Billions Over Improper Derivatives Sales (Bloomberg) The lenders, including Lloyds Banking Group Plc and HSBC Holdings Plc, have set aside around 740 million pounds to cover the claims. Analysts say the total charges for the industry may be much higher than that after the Financial Services Authority said it found “serious failings” in reviews of product sales. SAC And Elan Blasted By Investor Who Lost Nest Egg (NYP) Ronald Weiland realized he’d made a bad bet in 2008, when he lost his $1 million nest egg trading shares of drug company Elan. What he didn’t know then was that the cards were stacked against him. Weiland now believes that he and other investors were played by Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors when the hedge fund giant — acting on information from a former trader accused of insider trading — abruptly dumped its huge long position in Elan and Wyeth and started shorting both stocks. “They had information that I didn’t have access to,” said Weiland, a 53-year-old former consultant for Arthur Andersen. “It’s totally a matter of seeing very wealthy people being able to game the system.” The big trading swing that netted $276 million for SAC and led to the arrest of former trader Mathew Martoma has also landed the firm in hot water. Elan investors have filed at least two lawsuits against SAC, accusing the firm of costing them millions, and several class-action law firms are looking to tee up more. US Targeting Tax Evasion (WSJ) On Monday, a federal judge in New York approved an Internal Revenue Service summons demanding still more records from UBS. According to court filings, the government now is focusing on U.S. taxpayers with accounts at smaller Swiss banks that didn't have U.S. branches but served customers through a UBS account in Stamford, Conn. Interactive Map: What NYC Neighborhoods Have The Most Public Drinking Complaints? (Gothamist) Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, Hamilton Heights, East Harlem and Washington Heights are the worst offenders—on the other hand, almost no one is getting in trouble in Midtown, the Financial District, Red Hook, Dumbo, and the Upper East and West Sides. Since we already know there can be a a historical correlation between public drinking and public urinating (and sometimes only the urinating part is public), we decided to look at public urination complaints too...Some conclusions from this comparison: Midtown East and Chelsea have way more urination complaints than drinking ones. Union Square, Greenpoint and Randalls Island are also urinary offenders. It seems like nobody on Staten Island cares about people urinating on their lawns, and same goes for anywhere west of East Flushing. Blackstone Swings To Fourth Quarter Profit (WSJ) As of the quarter's end, total assets under management reached a record $210.22 billion, up 26% from the year earlier, as all of Blackstone's investment businesses continued to see net inflows and carrying-value appreciation...Blackstone posted a profit of $106.4 million, or 19 cents a unit, compared with a year-earlier loss of $22.7 million, or five cents a unit. On the basis of so-called economic net income, the firm reported a profit of 59 cents a unit, versus a profit of 42 cents a unit a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters recently expected a per-share profit of 47 cents. Ackman Ahead In Herbalife Bet (NYP) Ackman has scored a gross profit of about $260 million on his $1 billion short bet against the nutritional supplements company, based on an estimated 20 million shares shorted at an average price of $50. Loeb, who bought 8.9 million shares at an average price of $32, is up $44.5 million. Ackman has widened his lead considerably. Just two weeks ago, his gross gain stood closer to $120 million while Loeb had made an estimated $108 million. Threats Cloud Euro's Flight (WSJ) The euro, once on death's door, is on a monthslong tear, rising Wednesday to its highest level since November 2011. But even some investors who helped propel the currency above $1.3560 Wednesday say it can't fly much further. Europe's economy is still in the doldrums, they say, and a stronger euro could make the situation worse. And with central banks elsewhere racing to push down their own currencies, boosting the relative value of the euro, the European Central Bank eventually could be compelled to join them. Jobless Claims in U.S. Rose 38,000 Last Week to 368,000 (Bloomberg) Economists forecast 350,000 filings, according to the Bloomberg survey median. The increase followed a combined 45,000 drop in the prior two weeks. Guy Inadvertently Posts Public YouTube Video Inviting His Fiancée’s Best Friend Over for a Threeway (Gawker) We've all been there. You're super excited after getting the go ahead from your fiancée Cynthia to invite her best friend Zoey over for a threeway, so you hastily record a video introducing yourself to Zoey and letting her know that you're totally open to having a threeway this week, next week, the week after that, whenever, anytime, today, or maybe tomorrow, whenever possible, and you're just really excited to show her things that she's never seen and do things that were never done before in a threeway. Then you hastily upload the video to your public YouTube account that 300 people are subscribed to, and await your threeway.

Opening Bell: 12.17.12

SAC E-Mails Show Steve Cohen Consulted on Key Dell Trade (Bloomberg) Two days before Dell Inc. was set to report second-quarter 2008 earnings, Jon Horvath, a technology analyst at SAC Capital Advisors LP, e-mailed his boss Michael S. Steinberg and another portfolio manager to warn that the computer maker would miss earnings estimates. “I have a 2nd hand read from someone at the company,” Horvath began the Aug. 26 message, which provided details on gross margins, expenditures and revenue. “Please keep to yourself as obviously not well known.” Steinberg, a 15-year veteran of the hedge fund founded by billionaire Steven A. Cohen, responded: “Yes normally we would never divulge data like this, so please be discreet. Thanks.” The e-mails indicate Steinberg, the longest-serving SAC employee linked to the U.S. insider-trading probe, discussed the Dell trade with Cohen. While neither has been accused of any wrongdoing, the messages were admitted as evidence at the New York insider-trading trial of two hedge-fund managers last week after a judge ruled they supported prosecutor claims that Steinberg should be considered an unindicted co-conspirator. AIG To Sell Life Insurer Stake (WSJ) AIG will sell its stake in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd., raising as much as $6.5 billion in what could be the second-largest deal in Asia this year. Completion of the sale will mark another step forward for AIG, which is shedding noncore assets, as it seeks to repay its debt to the U.S. government, which took over the company in a $182 billion bailout in 2008. A Shadow Over Banks As UBS Nears Libor Deal (WSJ) The Swiss bank is set to agree as soon as this week to pay roughly $1.5 billion to settle allegations of wrongdoing related to benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, say people close to the talks. So far, UBS has agreed in principle with the U.S. Justice Department that a company unit in Japan will plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to a person familiar with the tentative deal. The Zurich-based parent will pay the fine in return for a deal that lets it avoid criminal prosecution. Criminal charges against individuals are expected to be filed in tandem with the settlement, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. The pursuit of criminal charges and the higher-than-expected fine are ominous signs for more than a dozen financial firms still under investigation. "There's no panic—yet," says someone close to one of the banks in the sprawling probe. Moody’s Gets No Respect as Bonds Shun 56% of Country Ratings (Bloomberg) The global bond market disagreed with Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s more often than not this year when the companies told investors that governments were becoming safer or more risky. Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of the 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974. This year, investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by S&P. Economy Poised To Nudge Ahead In 2013 (WSJ) So that's nice. Boehner Opens the Door to Tax Hikes on the Wealthy (Reuters) U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's offer to accept a tax rate increase for the wealthiest Americans knocks down a key Republican road block to a deal resolving the year-end "fiscal cliff." The question now boils down to what President Barack Obama offers in return. Such major questions, still unanswered so close to the end of the year suggest, however, that no spending and tax agreement is imminent. A source familiar with the Obama-Boehner talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who has less than $1 million in net annual income, meaning tax rates would rise on all above that line. Actor Depardieu Hits Back at French PM Over Taxes (CNBC) Actor Gerard Depardieu, accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge taxes by buying a house over the border in Belgium, retorted that he was leaving because "success" was now being punished in his homeland. A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old Depardieu is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country after tax increases by Socialist President Francois Hollande. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu's behaviour as "pathetic" and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt. "Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?" Depardieu said in a letter distributed to the media. "I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said. [...] The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star recently bought a house in Nechin, a Belgian village a short walk from the border with France, where 27 percent of residents are French nationals, and put up his sumptuous Parisian home up for sale. Depardieu, who has also inquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, said he was handing in his passport and social security card. Singapore Establishment Challenged by Carson Block on Olam (Bloomberg) When Carson Block likened Olam International Ltd. to fraud-ridden Enron Corp., he challenged more than the accounting of the Singapore-based commodities firm. He also took on Temasek Holdings Pte, the government-owned investment company whose money has helped build the city-state into a corporate dynamo known as Singapore Inc. Temasek is Olam’s second-largest shareholder, with a 16 percent stake that has lost more than $100 million in value since Nov. 19, when Block’s Muddy Waters LLC first questioned the validity of the company’s finances and said it was betting against the stock. Temasek is also the biggest shareholder in many of the country’s best-known companies, including DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Southeast Asia’s largest bank, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. “Carson Block is putting his whole reputation on this one,” said Low Chee Keong, associate professor of corporate law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He’s taking on the Singapore government, Singapore Inc. here.” UN court orders immediate release of Argentine ship seized by hedge funder Paul Singer over unpaid debt (AP) A United Nations court ordered the immediate release Saturday of an Argentine navy training ship held in Ghana two months ago at the request of an American hedge fund. The ARA Libertad was held Oct. 2 in the port of Tema as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from Argentina's economic crisis a decade ago. Argentina appealed to the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the ship's release, arguing that as a warship the Libertad is immune from being seized. In an expedited ruling, the court ordered that Ghana "forthwith and unconditionally release the frigate ARA Libertad" and ensure the ship and its crew can leave Ghanaian waters. It also ordered that the vessel should be resupplied as needed. Detaining the ship was "a source of conflict that may endanger friendly relations among states," the court said. The ruling leaves untouched the parties' rights to seek further international arbitration on the matter. Debt Loads Climb In Buyout Deals (WSJ) Private-equity firms are using almost as much debt to fund acquisitions as they did before the financial crisis, as return-hungry investors rush to buy bonds and loans backing those takeovers. The rise in borrowed money, or leverage, heralds the possibility of juicy returns for buyout groups. Ominously, the surge also brings back memories of the last credit binge around six years ago, which saddled dozens of companies with huge levels of debt. Berlusconi's Love Life Lost in Translation (CNBC) Global media reports that the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced his engagement to his 28-year-old girlfriend on one of his TV Channels on Sunday, have been dismissed by native Italians who say Berlusconi has been mis-translated. Various newspapers have reported that Berlusconi is to get married for the third time, when in fact he announced that he is in love and in a relationship...Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London (UCL), John Foot, told CNBC that Pascale is a"girlfriend, nothing more." "In Italy the phrase 'Mi sono fidanzato' usually means 'I have a girlfriend or boyfriend' and not 'I am engaged to be married'. This can cause confusion abroad but is pretty clear in the Italian context," he told CNBC. Twinkies again by spring? It could happen (NBC) It’s not even Christmas, but Twinkies fans may be able to start looking forward to an Easter present. Bankrupt Hostess Brands has received a number of bids from companies interested in buying the maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder bread, including retail heavyweights such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co, Bloomberg News reported Friday, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter...Anthony Michael Sabino, a bankruptcy attorney and a professor at St. John's University, said bankruptcy judge Robert Drain was motivated to move quickly. Bidding will likely take place by early January, since the assets — if not the treats themselves — could become stale. “I think this will move a at a fairly decent pace. He knows what’s at stake here.

Opening Bell: 3.31.15

Steve Cohen starts tech VC unit; Amish bank is killing it; PIMCO loses popularity contest; "Woman Stabbed Boyfriend In Groin For Eating All Her Salsa"; and more.

Opening Bell: 01.04.13

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