Opening Bell: 6.23.17

Even in the clink, Bernie Madoff is still helping his clients; Burton Malkiel is taking a not-so-random-walk; politics is affecting our porn habits; and more.
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Madoff Clients Fighting for Fortunes Get Help - From the Con Man (BBG)
From his federal lockup in Butner, North Carolina, Madoff said at a recent deposition he was a legitimate securities broker for decades, until 1992. Before that, he said, he was mostly clean as a whistle. Madoff made a similar claim in his guilty plea eight years ago, but the issue hasn’t really mattered until now. It’s become crucial to resolving some 80 lawsuits in which Irving Picard, the trustee appointed to handle the firm’s dissolution, is seeking about $100 million in profits from a group of customers who invested before 1992. The central issue is when the fraud started. If it began after 1992, those customers may get to keep their profit. If it started before, they lose out.

Nobody Is Perfect’: Some Uber Employees Balk at Travis Kalanick’s Exit (NYT)
Starting late Wednesday, Uber employees circulated a petition asking the company’s board of directors to bring back Mr. Kalanick in an active role. More than 1,000 employees clicked to support Mr. Kalanick’s return in that capacity. In addition, Uber workers took to social media to express their dismay at the departure of Mr. Kalanick, who helped found Uber and made it a transportation behemoth. “He worked day and night in creating this company to what it is today,” the petition said.

Can Uber ever make money? (FT)
“There is no clear pathway I can see for Uber to go from a high-revenue growth company to a profitable company,” says Aswath Damodaran, a professor of finance at the Stern School of Business. “Normally the story for start-ups is that as revenues grow economies of scale will kick in, but that story is tough to tell with Uber.”

Where Bezos Leads, Amazon Shareholders Blindly Follow (WSJ)
In many ways, Amazon is an exemplar for investors. In most companies, shareholders should encourage more R&D spending, worry less about quarterly targets and tell managers to focus on the business, not the share price. In Amazon’s case, the willingness to accept no explanation at all for a $13.7 billion purchase suggests faith has run too far.

Deutsche Bank unexpectedly pulled an offer to hire a top executive at the last minute (BI)
Rob Allard, a former Deutsche Bank executive who ran the structured product sales team before moving to Goldman Sachs in 2008, was due to join the bank as head of US fixed-income sales. He was set to replace John Gallo in that role. However, the job offer has since been rescinded, according to three people who did not want to be identified discussing the matter. It's unclear why, they said.

Walk it Back, Random Walker (PragCap)
Big news, nerds – Burton Malkiel has changed his mind. The investment legend, who has spent his entire life chastising alpha chasing active management, has moved over to the dark side. Malkiel, the Chief Investment Officer at Wealthfront has rolled out a new strategy that they’re calling “Passive Plus” indexing. The strategy is another name for Smart Beta which is another name for active deviations from market cap weighting. This is a big change in views considering he said this just a few years ago: “‘Smart Beta’ portfolios are more a testament to smart marketing rather than smart investing.”

Could the Rise of ‘Smart Beta’ Create Fragile Markets? (WSJ)
“The financial stability concern, which at this point is largely theoretical, is that these rules could unintentionally engender mechanical herding. In particular, if decision rules are derived from changes in market conditions, and the resulting portfolio reallocations then affect market conditions, then a feedback loop of self-fulfilling behaviors without human judgment is generated... A rule that replaces high volatility stocks with low volatility stocks could, during a period of financial market stress, exacerbate the volatility of certain securities.”

D.C. Takes a Break for Senate Testimony (PornHub Blog [sfw])
James Comey’s testimony began at 10am ET on June 8th, and compared to an average Thursday, traffic in the Washington D.C. region was down 10.1%. Traffic to Pornhub remained well below average until Noon hour, when it had a quick recovery and remained near normal levels for the rest of the day.

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Opening Bell: 08.27.12

RBS May Be Bigger Libor Culprit Than Barclays, Says MP (Guardian) John Mann, a Labour MP on the Treasury select committee, said "City insiders" had suggested RBS's involvement may be "noticeably worse" than Barclays.' [...] Mann's comments came as a former RBS trader claimed that the bank's internal checks were so lax that anyone could change Libor rates. Court documents filed in Singapore show that Tan Chi Min, who is suing RBS for wrongful dismissal, claimed that in 2008 a trader for the bank, Will Hall, changed the Libor submission even though he was part of the Japanese yen swap desk in London. The papers show that Tan, who worked for RBS in Singapore, raised the issue at his disciplinary meeting last September, saying the bank's internal procedure in London seemed to be that "anyone can change Libor". Spain Expects to Tap About $75 Billion in Rescue Financing for Its Banks (NYT) Spain expects to use about 60 billion euros, or $75 billion, of the 100 billion euros of bank rescue financing offered by European finance ministers in June, according to the Spanish economy minister, Luis de Guindos. UK Investment Bankers Prefer Singapore (FT) The southeast-Asian city state has become the most favored location for investment bankers who are based in London, research by financial services recruitment firm Astbury Marsden shows. Of the 462 investment bankers that were asked, 31 percent said they would most like to work in Singapore. By comparison, only a fifth preferred New York and only 19 percent opted in favor of London. In the year before, 22 percent named London as their preferred location, underlining how the British capital has lost some appeal among investment bankers amid tighter regulation and a clampdown on bonuses. “A fast growing, low tax and bank friendly environment like Singapore stands as a perfect antidote to the comparatively high tax and anti-banker sentiment of London and New York,” said Mark Cameron, chief operating officer at Astbury Marsden. “Far more London-based bankers are now more willing and able to relocate the 6,700 miles to Singapore.” Another Madoff Name Nix (NYP) The second of Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff’s daughters-in-law is asking a court for permission to shed her now notorious married name. Deborah West Madoff, who started divorce proceedings against Bernie’s son Andrew back in 2008, has sought permission in Manhattan Supreme Court to revert to her maiden name. The couple have two children. She’s not the first in the family to do so: in 2010, her sister-in-law made a similar court application. Suits Mount In Rate Scandal (WSJ) It won't be easy for the plaintiffs to win in court even though financial institutions are likely to reach settlements with regulators in coming months totaling billions of dollars, according to people close to the Libor investigation. The plaintiffs must prove that banks successfully manipulated interest-rate benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and caused the plaintiffs to suffer a loss. Still, some investors and analysts are forecasting huge damages despite the legal hurdles. In a July report, Macquarie Research estimated that banks face potential legal liability of about $176 billion, based on the assumption that Libor was "understated" by 0.4 percentage points in 2008 and 2009. Carlyle Group marketed $25 million deal without license: Kuwaiti firm (AP) A Kuwaiti company suing the Carlyle Group over a $25 million investment that went bad is now accusing the private equity firm of marketing the deal without a license as it seeks to have its case heard in Kuwaiti courts. The latest claim by Kuwait's National Industries Group adds a new twist to its more than two-and-a-half year legal challenge to Carlyle, and could complicate the American company's relationships with other wealthy Mideast investors. NIG's lawsuit focuses on a Carlyle investment fund that was one of the earliest casualties of the financial crisis when it collapsed in 2008. The fund has been the subject of multiple lawsuits against Washington-based Carlyle. Couple in court for disturbing the peace for 'screaming, moaning and swearing during seven-hour sex romps five nights a week' (DM) Jessica Angel and Colin MacKenzie had been issued with an order requiring them to prevent ‘screaming, loud moaning, swearing and raised voices’ after police were called to their flat 20 times in just four months. However, following further complaints from neighbours, the couple were charged under the Environmental Protection Act. They face a £3,000 fine if convicted...Mr MacKenzie, 45, from Sturt, South Australia, said: ‘How can you live in a place where you can’t have sex? It’s ridiculous. Anyway, it’s mostly Jessie. The sex goes from four to seven hours, five nights a week. I’ll probably die of a heart attack – she’s almost killing me.’ German Official Opposes European Debt Purchases (NYT) The president of the German central bank said in an interview published Sunday that he remained staunchly opposed to government bond purchases by the European Central Bank, a position that could make it more difficult to deploy a weapon many economists believe is essential to saving the euro. But in a sign that the mood in Germany could be shifting, Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted a more dovish tone during a separate interview. She told members of her governing coalition to stop talking about Greece leaving the euro. “We are in a decisive phase in the battle against the euro zone debt crisis,” Ms. Merkel told ARD television. “Everyone should weigh their words very carefully.” Fed mulls open season on bond buys to help economy (Reuters) The Federal Reserve is considering a new approach to unconventional monetary policy that would give it more leeway to tailor the scale of its stimulus to changing economic winds. While fresh measures are not assured and the timing of any potential moves are still in question, some officials have said any new bond buying, or quantitative easing, could be open-ended, meaning it would not be bound by a fixed amount or time frame. "I am inclined to think that if the Fed decides on more QE it would be of the open-ended variety," said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan and a former Fed economist. BlackRock Bullish On Thai Bonds, Region’s Worst (Bloomberg) BlackRock is bullish on Thai bonds, Asia’s worst-performing in 2012, saying the central bank has room to ease monetary policy as a global slump cools demand for exports from Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. Former SC Gov. Mark Sanford to wed ex-mistress Maria Belen Chapur (NYDN) "Yes, we are engaged, and I'm both happy and excited for what that means," Sanford said in a statement obtained by CNN. "I have long expressed my feelings for her, she's a wonderful person. My closest friends have met and love her, and I look forward to introducing her to still many more that have yet to do so." The conservative Republican's political aspirations were dashed in 2009 when he disappeared from South Carolina for five days under the pretense that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. The father of four, who was once thought to be a potential 2012 presidential contender, later admitted that he was actually visiting Chapur, who he professed to be his "soul mate." "I've been unfaithful to my wife," Sanford said at the time. "I developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina."

Opening Bell: 06.25.12

Soros Pushes EU To Start Joint Debt Fund Or Risk Summit Fiasco (Bloomberg) “There is a disagreement on the fiscal side,” Soros, 81, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Francine Lacqua at his home in London. “Unless that is resolved in the next three days, then I am afraid the summit could turn out to be a fiasco. That could actually be fatal.” Greece Seen Blocked From Debt Markets Until 2017 (Bloomberg) “The challenges facing Greece remain extremely large,” said Jamie Searle, a fixed-income strategist at Citigroup Inc. in London. “It will be a long while before they can get back to the market.” Spain Asks For Help (WSJ) The Spanish government has made its formal request for European Union aid to help finance the cleanup of its ailing banking industry, the finance ministry said in a statement Monday. Nasdaq: 'Arrogance' Contributed To IPO Flop (WSJ) Chief Executive Robert Greifeld said Sunday that "arrogance" and "overconfidence" among Nasdaq staffers contributed to problems with Facebook's initial public offering last month. Addressing a conference of corporate directors at Stanford University's Law School, Mr. Greifeld said Nasdaq had tested its systems extensively before the May 18 IPO, simulating higher trading volumes than actually occurred. But he said Nasdaq was unprepared for increasing numbers of canceled orders in the hours leading up to Facebook's debut. S&P's Method's Under SEC's Lens (WSJ) The scrutiny relates to S&P's decision in July 2011 to pull its ratings on a new $1.5 billion commercial-mortgage-backed security, or CMBS, issued by Goldman Sachs and Citigroup The unusual step sent the commercial mortgage securities market into turmoil and scuttled the deal for weeks, angering investors and issuers. The SEC's inquiry is part of its annual review of S&P and other credit-rating firms. But in S&P's case regulators are looking at whether it used more lenient standards to rate new CMBS than it used on outstanding deals, the current and former employees say. JPMorgan Unit Shifts Operations (WSJ) The CIO, which is charged with investing a portfolio valued at $370 billion, equivalent to about 17% of J.P. Morgan's $2.2 trillion in assets, will avoid trying to protect the bank using infrequently traded derivatives, according to people close to the matter. The CIO unit also will avoid private-equity investments. But those changes will be driven by a judgment that certain losing strategies were poorly conceived and hedged, not by a decision to foreclose investment options. CNBC'S Guy Adami Takes On The Ironman Triathlon (NYT) But he says none of those experiences compare with the rush he felt on a sun-dappled Sunday morning in late May in Red Bank, N.J., when he crossed the finish line of his first triathlon. It was at a so-called sprint distance — a half-mile swim, followed by a 13-mile bike ride and then a 3.2-mile run — which Mr. Adami, 48, completed in just under two hours, finishing 116th in a field of 160. Just signing up for that race was no small accomplishment for Mr. Adami, who, not six months earlier, had been leading the sedentary existence of a trader and carrying a flabby 235 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. But as a volunteer placed a medal around his neck, Mr. Adami had little time to celebrate. A far more daunting challenge loomed: on Aug. 11, he will join nearly 3,000 other weekendwarriors as they seek to endure, and complete, the first Ironman-distance triathlon to be staged in the New York metropolitan region. To put the magnitude of that 140.6-mile race in perspective, consider this. It will begin at 7 a.m. with a 2.4-mile swim in the Hudson River — the open-water equivalent of about 170 lengths in a 25-yard swimming pool, or nearly five times the distance Mr. Adami completed in that New Jersey sprint. Those participants who manage to complete that swim in 2 hours 20 minutes or less will move on to the bicycle portion — 112 miles in two loops along the deceptively hilly Palisades Interstate Parkway, or the rough equivalent of pedaling from Manhattan to Hartford. Riders who finish the bike ride before 5:30 p.m. — or 10 ½ hours after their odyssey begins — will embark on a 26.2-mile marathon, which will begin in Palisades Interstate Park on the New Jersey side of the Hudson and continue for several loops before concluding with a brisk run (or perhaps a staggering walk, which the rules permit) across the George Washington Bridge and into Riverside Park on the West Side of Manhattan. IPO Market Gets First Post-Facebook Test (WSJ) In the dry spell since the disappointing May 18 debut of the social-network company, plenty of IPOs have been pulled. And for a time it appeared there would be no attempt to test the waters in June. But a quartet of offerings is lined up for the final week of the month: cloud-based computer-services provider ServiceNow Inc., energy partnership EQT Midstream Partners LP; software firm Exa Corp., and biopharmaceutical firm Tesaro Inc. Judge likens Goldman logic to Orwell’s ‘1984’ (NYP) A federal judge blasted Goldman Sachs for its “Orwellian” defense against a lawsuit accusing it of misleading investors in the sale of risky securities, comparing the firm’s logic to the George Orwell classic “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” “Words such as ‘honesty,’ ‘integrity,’ and ‘fair dealing’ apparently do not mean what they say,” Manhattan federal court Judge Paul Crotty said in a 27-page opinion allowing the shareholder suit to proceed against the bank. The harsh words from Crotty relate to allegations that Goldman concealed conflicts of interest in several CDO transactions that were part of the subprime meltdown. $400M+ Tab For Madoff Swindler Ezra Merkin (NYP) The agreement will allow some of Merkin’s clients to recover as much as 40 percent of what they lost, with investors who had been kept in the dark recovering the most. Basel Bank Official Warns On Stimulus Measures (WSJ) Central banks currently find themselves "caught in the middle," Jaime Caruana said, "forced to be the policy makers of last resort." They are providing monetary stimulus on a "massive scale," supplying liquidity to banks unable to fund themselves in markets and easing government financing burdens by keeping interest rates low, said Mr. Caruana, speaking in Basel, Switzerland, at the annual general meeting of the BIS, a consortium of the world's central banks. "These emergency measures could have undesirable side effects if continued for too long," he said. "A worry is that monetary policy would be pressured to do still more because not enough action has been taken in other areas." Rare giant tortoise Lonesome George dies in Galapagos Islands (NYDN) The giant tortoise named Lonesome George — the last of the Pinta Island subspecies and an enduring icon of the Galapagos — died Sunday, the Galapagos National Park said in a statement. George, who was discovered in 1972 in the islands that inspired Charles Darwin’s ideas of evolution, was about 100 years old. Galapagos tortoises have been known to live for 200 years. “This morning the park ranger in charge of looking after the tortoises found Lonesome George, his body was motionless,” park director Edwin Naula told Reuters. “His life cycle came to an end.” Since 1993, various mates had been provided for Lonesome George in failed attempts to keep his subspecies alive. Two females of a different subspecies managed to lay eggs, but they were infertile. George was actually named after American actor George Gobel, a TV star of the 1950s, who called himself “Lonesome George.”

Opening Bell: 06.29.12

JPMorgan Cushions Drew's Retirement With $21.5 Million (Bloomberg) JPMorgan's decision to let Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew retire four days after the bank disclosed a $2 billion loss in her division allowed her to walk away with about $21.5 million in stock and options. Drew, who resigned May 14, can keep $17.1 million in unvested restricted shares and about $4.4 million in options that she otherwise would have been required to forfeit if the New York-based bank had terminated her employment “with cause,” according to regulatory filings and estimates from consulting firm Meridian Compensation Partners LLC. A 30-year JPMorgan veteran, Drew also had accumulated 661,000 unrestricted shares of common stock worth about $23.7 million based on the May 14 closing price, $9.7 million in deferred compensation and $2.6 million in pension pay as of Dec. 31, according to company filings. Altogether, Drew’s stock, pension and deferred pay come to about $57.5 million. JPMorgan Models In Spotlight (WSJ) The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the bank's primary regulator, has requested reviews of models that measure the possible effects of everything from trading losses to interest-rate moves, the people said. A change in one of these models contributed to losses in the bank's Chief Investment Office, a once-obscure unit that manages $370 billion in excess cash. The change effectively increased the amount of risk traders were allowed to take. Jim Rogers: Be Afraid (CNBC) Even as markets cheered the agreement by European leaders to allow the direct use of the bloc’s bailout funds to recapitalize struggling banks, investor Jim Rogers told CNBC the move does nothing to help solve the region’s biggest problem...Rogers argues that the deal does not improve the solvency of indebted nations such as Spain. Spain's central government budget deficit has soared to 3.41 percent of GDP in the first five months of 2012, above the EU limit of 3 percent. He adds that the governments need to stop coming to the rescue of failing banks, even if it results in “financial Armageddon.” SEC May Order Nasdaq Upgrade (WSJ) As part of the deepening inquiry, regulators are weighing demanding that Nasdaq agree to revamp its processes for developing, changing, testing and implementing the computer code used in initial public offerings and other exchange functions, according to people familiar with the investigation. FBI arrests Bernie Madoff's brother Peter ahead of expected guilty plea (AP) Given Peter Madoff's "level of financial experience and sophistication," the trustee alleged that he either knew or should have known that he reaped gains "derived from purported transactionsgrounded in fraud and deception." The trustee also took aim at his daughter Shana, who once worked as an in-house lawyer at the firm and has denied involvement in the scheme. "Had Peter, as the Chief Compliance Officer, or Shana, as Compliance Counsel, done their jobs properly, the fraud might have been revealed years earlier," the complaint said. "Either they failed completely to carry out their required supervisory/compliance roles, or they knew about the fraud but covered it up." Euro Zone Sees Single Bank Supervisor (WSJ) European leaders at a two-day summit in Brussels said they would speed up plans to create a single supervisor to oversee the euro zone's banks, and agreed on measures aimed at reducing soaring borrowing costs for Spain and Italy. Credit Suisse Says Second Quarter Will Be Profitable Overall (Reuters) "Further to its statement of last Friday and in response to media reports about its second quarter financial performance, Credit Suisse informs that it expects based on quarter-to-date information to be profitable at the group level and in all its divisions," the Swiss bank said in a brief statement on Friday, the last day of the second quarter. Bankers Fleeing Europe Crisis Head To Singapore (CNBC) “Singapore seems like a very green field compared to Paris. It looks like what Europe was 20 years ago, in the sense it’s got a lot of opportunities in terms of new prospects for the markets.” Louisiana's Rogue Dolphin Entertains ... and Bites (Newser) Residents of an upscale New Orleans suburb have been warned to stay away from their friendly neighborhood dolphin. The young bottlenose dolphin, who arrived in a canal off the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain after Hurricane Katrina, is a big hit with boaters and swimmers, but has bitten at least three people who got too close to him. Wildlife officials have met with residents to tell them how to co-exist with the dolphin—and to remind them that feeding or harassing wild dolphins is banned by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Signs have been put up urging people to stay at least 50 feet away from the dolphin. "He’s like a friendly neighborhood dog, but the dog will bite," the manager of the local homeowner's association explains to King5. "He's a wild animal and you have to treat him like he's a wild animal and not jump on him, not go swimming with him. He's not Disney World." Officials say that relocating the dolphin could kill him—and if he survived, he would probably return to the canal he calls home. One resident has another solution. "Maybe they should find him a girlfriend," he says.

Opening Bell: 03.02.11

Financial Crisis Amnesia (WSJ) Tim Geithner: "My wife occasionally looks up from the newspaper with bewilderment while reading another story about people in the financial world or their lobbyists complaining about Wall Street reform or claiming they didn't need the Troubled Asset Relief Program. She reminds me of the panicked calls she answered for me at home late at night or early in the morning in 2008 from the then-giants of our financial system. We cannot afford to forget the lessons of the crisis and the damage it caused to millions of Americans. Amnesia is what causes financial crises. These reforms are worth fighting to preserve." IMF Says Threat Of Sharp Global Slowdown Has Eased (Reuters) So that's nice. Life as Libor Traders Knew It Seen as Abusive by Investigators (Bloomberg) Regulators probing the alleged manipulation of global interest rates are focusing on what traders involved in setting the benchmark say were routine discussions condoned by their superiors...“A few hundred people, mostly based in one city and sitting in close proximity to each other, set an index rate for trillions of dollars of securities with little or no oversight,” said Mark Sunshine, chief executive officer and chairman of Veritas Financial Partners, a Florida-based firm that provides loans to businesses and real estate companies. “That cannot continue. The mechanism itself, the oversight and the penalties if violated, are woefully inadequate.” Twitter's Slow Road To IPO (WSJ) In just six years Twitter Inc. has become the world's digital soapbox, amassing more than 100 million monthly users—from everyday people to Lady Gaga to Middle East protesters—who use the service to spread pithy updates and breaking news. Yet despite the service's growing influence on society and culture, the business behind it still has a ways to go until it's ready for an initial public offering. To understand why, travel to Cincinnati, where last June Twitter planted a staffer blocks from Procter & Gamble Co.'s headquarters and assigned him a critical task: Teach the country's biggest advertiser to use Twitter and buy its ads. But when P&G spent $150 million to promote the launch last month of a Tide laundry detergent, the company bought magazine pages, billboard spots and television commercials during the Academy Awards—and no Twitter ads. "All [P&G] brands are asking questions about what to do with Twitter and how to leverage it; nobody really had a clear, lean answer," said the staffer, J.B. Kropp. US Seeks Dismissal Of Lawsuit On AIG Takeover (Reuters) In November, Hank Greenberg's company, Starr International Co, sued the U.S. government for $25 billion, calling the 2008 federal takeover of the insurer unconstitutional. Starr sued the government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., which handles lawsuits seeking money from the government. It brought that lawsuit on behalf of itself and other AIG shareholders...In a filing with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, the government said although Starr may disagree with the terms to which AIG agreed, any loss resulting from that agreement should be borne by AIG and its shareholders, and not the public. Obama Back On Wall Street (Politico Morning Money) Obama raised just north of $5 million for his re-election campaign and the DNC at four events in NYC last night including a swank dinner ($35,800 per person, $71,600 per couple) at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen on East 18th Street. The dinner, the first Wall Street-heavy event since Obama doubled down on his proposed bank tax, was hosted by a handful of the President’s stalwart industry supporters including Robert Wolf, Blair Effron, Mark Gallogly, Marc Lasry and Orin Kramer. Sex Work Among Medical Students On the Rise? (ABC) Sex work among medical students is on the rise, claims a new editorial, published in the journal Student BMJ. The UK-based publication noted that students are likely seeking extreme measures to deal with their financial hardship. One in 10 students knows of another who participated in prostitution to pay their medical student loans, according to the editorial. "Mounting evidence suggests that more university students are engaging in prostitution as a means to pay increasing tuition fees, growing debts, and high living costs," Jodi Dixon, the author of the editorial, wrote. "With escalating debts, students in the United Kingdom may view prostitution as an easy way to get rich quick." Greek Swaps Headed Back to ISDA Committee (Bloomberg) Holders of credit-default swaps on Greek bonds shouldn’t tear up their contracts after yesterday’s ruling against a payout. The International Swaps & Derivatives Association said the swaps hadn’t been triggered by the European Central Bank’s exchange of Greek bonds for new securities exempt from losses taken by private investors. The group will now probably be asked to determine whether collective action clauses, or CACS, being used by Greece to impel investors to participate in a wider exchange of bonds that would trigger the swaps. Madoff moneyman Merkin near $400M AG deal (NYP) After a bitter three-year legal battle, Ezra Merkin, the Manhattan moneyman who funneled more than $2 billion to convicted Ponzi king Bernie Madoff, is nearing a settlement with the New York attorney general that could have him shell out as much as $400 million. Sources said the settlement with AG Eric Schneiderman would recover the bulk of the $470 million in fees the notorious middleman pocketed from investing his clients’ cash with Madoff. Game Changer For Zynga: No Facebook (WSJ) The San Francisco-based company, whose offerings have long been associated with Facebook as well as apps for mobile devices such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone, said a "beta," or prerelease version of what it calls the Zynga Platform, will initially allow customers to play five of its popular titles—"CityVille," "Hidden Chronicles," "Zynga Poker," "CastleVille" and "Words With Friends"—from its website. Zynga said more of its games will become available on the website over time. Cops Ticket Woman For Resting Injured Leg On Seat In Deserted Subway Train (Gothamist) Brooklyn resident Kate Wilson was riding the D train home to Sunset Park around 1 a.m. one morning in February when several police officers entered her subway car at 36th street. The subway car was mostly empty, with plenty of empty seats, and Wilson was resting her right leg—which she had injured in a race that day—on a corner of one seat. What followed was an absurd yet all too familiar encounter with overzealous, quota-filling transit cops and ended with a $50 summons.

Opening Bell: 03.22.12

Goldman conducts company-wide email review (Reuters) Goldman Sachs Group Inc has begun scanning internal emails for the term "muppet" and other evidence that employees referred to clients in derogatory ways, Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein told partners in a conference call this week, according to people familiar with the call...It was not clear when the search would be completed or what actions, if any, Goldman would take if the search turns up derogatory comments. Jobless Claims in U.S. Fall to Lowest Level in Four Years (Bloomberg) Jobless claims decreased by 5,000 to 348,000 in the week ended March 17, the fewest since February 2008, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 46 economists in a Bloomberg News survey projected 350,000. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls and those getting extended payments also fell. ‘Worst Still to Come’ for Europe Says Citi Economist (CNBC) Despite high-profile measures such as the Greek debt deal and mass pumping of liquidity into the banking system, Europe’s problems have merely been delayed for another day, Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citi, told CNBC. “We have really just paused for breath,” he said. “It (the long-term refinancing operation) really hasn’t solved the problem, and for Europe the worst is still to come.” On Wall St., Keeping a Tight Rein on Twitter (Dealbook) So a cottage industry has emerged. Adept start-ups act as guides on Wall Street’s social media adventure, providing the software that helps firms comply with regulations that date to a sleepier era of communication. “Here they were, these organizations that had never used the social networks because they had completely locked down access,” said Chad Bockius, the chief executive of Socialware, a start-up based in Austin, Tex., that advises financial firms on social media. “This is the same thing we saw when people started to use the Internet for business purposes.” Mr. Bockius, 35, says his company was the first to offer social media compliance products for the financial industry. Socialware sells software that can archive messages, house a library of prewritten content and allow compliance officers to oversee postings. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, which Mr. Bockius holds up as one of his most enterprising clients, gave about 600 of its 17,800 financial advisers access to Twitter and LinkedIn last summer, and now plans to expand those ranks. “We’re trailblazing, so to speak,” said Lauren W. Boyman, who runs social media at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. “Even with the restrictions that we have, we’ve seen a lot of success.” John Edwards is First Name Uncovered in 'Millionaire Madam' Investigation (DNAI via Daily Intel) Edwards allegedly hooked up with one of Gristina’s high-end hookers in 2007 when the dashing pol from North Carolina brought his then high-flying presidential campaign to the Big Apple. The one-night fling allegedly took place at an Upper East Side hotel suite and was arranged by an aide with help from a New Yorker familiar with Gristina’s prostitution ring, sources said...“Most of the women don’t have any idea about the identities of the men they sleep with,” a source explained. “How would they know a money man from Wall Street or the face of a lawyer or banker who shows up? “But the face of the national politician?” the source rhetorically asked. “She knew.” Volcker Says U.S. Needs Reforms in Finance, Government (Bloomberg) “It is not only our economic prosperity that’s in jeopardy, but our national security and our ability to play a constructive role in a changing world,” said Volcker, 84. Volcker said that progress has been made toward improving financial regulatory oversight, capital and liquidity standards and rules for derivatives. He said more needed to be done to regulate money market mutual funds, which he called “a new systemic risk,” and to rebuild a private market for home mortgages to replace the government-sponsored entities that dominate the business. “The reform report card still reads, ‘Promising but definitely incomplete,’” Volcker said. More Wings, Please — Signs Small Biz Is Improving (AP) Some diners at Hurricane Grill & Wings had been limiting themselves to a small order of the chain's saucy chicken wings and a glass of tap water. These days, many of those people are upgrading to a bigger order of as many as 15 wings and a soda. For Hurricane Grill, which sells its wings in more than 30 varieties of sauces, the larger plates and the sodas are a sign that customers are OK about spending a little more when they go out to eat. The evidence may not be a big economic report like gross domestic product or factory orders in a region, but small businesses have their own indicators that the economy is improving. Rich Would Skirt 'Buffett Rule' Report Shows (WSJ) The administration's proposal to end the Bush-era tax cuts for couples making more than $250,000 would raise about $850 billion over the next decade. Mr. Obama also wants to limit the value of many deductions for families making more than $250,000. That would raise a further $584 billion over the decade. But millionaires likely would find legal ways to avoid paying higher taxes under another of Mr. Obama's new tax proposals, his so-called "Buffett Rule," a separate congressional estimate found. The proposal—spelled out in Mr. Obama's State of the Union address but not included in his budget—would impose a 30% minimum tax rate on those who make more than $1 million a year. It's named for the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who advocates higher taxes on the very wealthy. Taxpayers' likely efforts to sidestep the rule's impact mean it would raise about $47 billion in extra revenue over the next decade, according to a new estimate by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional advisory body that functions as the official congressional scorekeeper for legislation affecting government tax revenues. The Tax Policy Center had estimated the Buffett rule would raise about $114 billion over the next decade. Monster titanoboa snake invades New York (AP) New York commuters arriving at Grand Central Station will soon be greeted by a monstrous sight: a 48-foot-long, 2,500-pound titanoboa snake. The good news: It's not alive. Anymore. But the full-scale replica of the reptile -- which will make its first appearance at the commuter hub on March 22 -- is intended, as Smithsonian spokesperson Randall Kremer happily admitted, to "scare the daylights out of people" -- actually has a higher calling: to "communicate science to a lot of people." The scientifically scary-accurate model will go a long way toward that: If this snake slithered by you, it would be waist-high and measure the length of a school bus. Think of it as the T-rex of snakes.

Opening Bell: 06.13.12

Dimon To Fault Controls On Risk (WSJ) Mr. Dimon, scheduled to appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday morning, intends to apologize for the miscues—a stark departure from his normal shoot-from-the-hip demeanor. But Mr. Dimon will push back on any implication that the incident is lastingly detrimental to the largest U.S. bank by assets. In fact, the New York company expects its second quarter to be "solidly profitable" despite the losses, Mr. Dimon said in an early copy of his prepared remarks. "We will not make light of these losses, but they should be put into perspective," Mr. Dimon is expected to say. "We will lose some of our shareholders' money—and for that, we feel terrible—but no client, customer or taxpayer money was impacted by this incident." Jamie Dimon's Testimony (PDF) "All of these activities come with risk. And just as we have remained focused on serving our clients, we have also remained focused on managing the risks of our business, particularly given today’s considerable global economic and financial volatility. Last, I would like to say that in the face of these recent losses, we have come together as a Firm, acknowledged our mistakes, and committed ourselves to fixing them. We will learn from this incident and my conviction is that we will emerge from this moment a stronger, smarter, better company." Dimon: JPMorgan Traders Took Risks They Didn't Understand (Bloomberg) In testimony prepared for a hearing today, Dimon expressed regret over losses in the bank’s chief investment office, saying that its trading strategy was “poorly conceived and vetted” by senior managers who were “in transition” and not paying adequate attention. Greeks Withdraw $1 Billion A Day Ahead Of Vote (Reuters) Greeks pulled their cash out of the banks and stocked up with food ahead of a cliffhanger election on Sunday that many fear will result in the country being forced out of the euro. Bankers said up to 800 million euros ($1 billion) were leaving major banks daily and retailers said some of the money was being used to buy pasta and canned goods, as fears of returning to the drachma were fanned by rumors that a radical leftist leader may win the election. At Starbucks, Uncertainty Over Mayor's Drink Plan (NYT) As the Bloomberg administration moved ahead on Tuesday with its plan to restrict sales of big sugary drinks in New York, securing a preliminary nod from the city’s Board of Health, it said it is still trying to determine the impact on one popular beverage brand: Starbucks. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan, which would limit the size of sweet drinks sold at many establishments to 16 ounces or less, exempts any beverage that contains more than 50 percent milk by volume. Officials in City Hall and in Seattle said they were unsure how those rules might affect the Starbucks family of syrupy, milkshake-style coffee drinks, catnip to thousands of caffeine-addicted New Yorkers who frequent the company’s 190 outlets in Manhattan...The rules would ban large sodas sold at fast-food restaurants, movie theaters and street carts. But the Big Gulp, the supersized soda cup at 7-Eleven, would still be allowed under the proposal, because the proposal would exempt the sale of drinks in groceries or convenience stores. Full-Scale Bailouts for Italy, Spain in 6 Months: Egan-Jones (CNBC) Spain and Italy need a full-scale bailout from the European Union because of their high levels of government debt and the credit quality of their banks, and will likely seek help within the next 6 months, according to Sean Egan, Founding Partner and President of Egan-Jones, an independent ratings agency. Poor credit quality of banks usually goes hand-in-hand with poor government finances as the two institutions are “joined at the hip”, Egan told CNBC Asia’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday. That’s the case for most countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland and Ireland; Spain and Italy are no exceptions, he said. “It makes little sense to separate the banks’ credit quality from the governments’ credit quality because quite often, they support each other and that’s certainly the case in Italy and Spain,” he said. “We think that Spain will be back at the table, asking for more than the 100 billion euros ($125 billion) that they just asked for, and we think that Italy will also come to the table within the next 6 months.” Chinese Banks To See Squeeze On Profit (WSJ) In a bid to bring down lending rates and rev up economic growth, China's central bank said last week it would allow banks to double the maximum discount on loans and offer deposit rates that can reach 1.1 times the benchmark level. That could squeeze the minimum spread between loans and deposits from 2.4% to as little as 1.5%. "It's the biggest step towards a market-oriented interest-rate regime since 2004," said Yin Jianfeng, a researcher at government think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to a past easing of controls on lending rates. "Given the global financial tumult and domestic economic slowdown, I'd say it's a really bold move." ING Fined A Record Amount (WSJ) ING Bank has agreed to pay a record penalty of $619 million for illegally moving billions of dollars through the U.S. banking system on behalf of Cuban and Iranian clients and threatening to fire employees if they failed to conceal the origin of the money. The U.S. prohibits certain countries and entities from accessing the U.S. banking system through sanctions enforced by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. Banks in Manhattan, which process most of the world's U.S. dollar payments, use "filters" to prevent terrorists, money launderers and other criminals from gaining access. Let's Pizza vending machine ready for U.S. debut (PM) Let's Pizza, a vending machine that creates pizzas from scratch in 2.5 minutes, is about to plant a flag in U.S. soil. The machine was created by Italian Claudio Torghel and is distributed by A1 Concepts, based out of The Netherlands...The machine contains a specially developed bag of flour and a bag of mineral water. Every time you order a pizza, the machine will start making the dough, then shape it into a crust, and top it with organic tomato sauce. Next, one of the toppings is placed on top and the pizza is ready for the oven. Each machine offers four different kinds of pizzas.

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.