Opening Bell: 6.26.17

Dan Loeb takes a bite out of Nestle; stress test results aren't as tidy as you think; Sports Illustrated stretches the definition of "swimsuit"; and more.
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Third Point LLC

Courtesy Third Point LLC

Nestle Targeted by Dan Loeb in Activist’s Biggest-Ever Bet (BBG)
Dan Loeb has amassed a $3.5 billion stake in Nestle SA, targeting Europe’s largest company in the biggest bet of his two-decade career as an activist investor. Third Point, Loeb’s hedge fund, owns about 40 million shares in the Vevey, Switzerland-based company, according to an investor letter released Sunday after Bloomberg first reported the position. The fund encouraged Nestle to sell its stake in cosmetics maker L’Oreal SA, increase leverage for share buybacks and adopt a formal profitability target, among other suggestions. “It is rare to find a business of Nestle’s quality with so many avenues for improvement,” wrote Third Point, which holds a 1.3 percent stake.

Why Apple and J.P. Morgan Are Chasing Venmo (WSJ)
Venmo was an afterthought for PayPal when it acquired the service as part of a roughly $800 million deal for Braintree Payments Solutions LLC in 2013. Braintree’s primary business was enabling tech companies like Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc. to accept online and mobile payments. Braintree had paid around $26 million for Venmo in 2012.

Fed’s stress tests raise concern over financial safety standard (FT)
Brian Kleinhanzl, analyst at KBW, said Goldman’s relatively low SLR score meant the bank may get the green light from the Fed only for lower capital returns than he had expected. Richard Ramsden, analyst at Goldman, said the new standard had also become the “binding constraint” for JPMorgan Chase as it calculated its capital returns to shareholders. Meanwhile, analysts at Evercore ISI said State Street’s stress test performance under the SLR, as well as the related tier 1 leverage ratio, was “too close for comfort”.

Quants Rule Alpha's Hedge Fund 100 List (II)
Need more proof that the geeks are ruling the world these days? Look no further than the 2017 Hedge Fund 100, Institutional Investor Alpha's 16th-annual ranking of the world's 100-largest hedge funds by assets. Whil the total managed by these firms declined from the previous year, several quantitatively focused firms climbed several notches in the ranking and in some cases grew their assets by double-digit percentages.

This Is What A Bubble Looks Like: Japan 1989 Edition (The Fat Pitch)
In 1986, required reading for anyone in business was David Halberstam's best-seller, The Reckoning, detailing the story behind the seemingly unstoppable rise of Nissan and demise of Ford. In the same year, Ron Howard and Michael Keaton made a hit movie, Gung Ho, about a company foisting its Japanese management techniques on a US auto manufacturer. Yes, people went to the movies to see why Japan was so good at what they did.

The $1.5 Trillion Business Tax Change Flying Under the Radar (WSJ)
Republicans looking to rewrite the U.S. tax code are taking aim at one of the foundations of modern finance—the deduction that companies get for interest they pay on debt. That deduction affects everyone from titans of Wall Street who load up on junk bonds to pay for multibillion-dollar corporate takeovers to wheat farmers in the Midwest looking to make ends meet before harvest. Yet a House Republican proposal to eliminate the deduction has gotten relatively little sustained public attention or lobbying pressure.

Stock Picking Is Dying Because There Are No More Stocks to Pick (WSJ)
In less than two decades, more than half of all publicly traded companies have disappeared. There were 7,355 U.S. stocks in November 1997, according to the Center for Research in Security Prices at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Nowadays, there are fewer than 3,600. A close look at the data helps explain why stock pickers have been underperforming. And the shrinking number of companies should make all investors more skeptical about the market-beating claims of recently trendy strategies.

In Long Run, There’s No Such Thing as an Einstein Investor (NYT)
The problem is that the world is too complex for any method to work all of the time. The economist Alfred Marshall, then of Cambridge University, wrote in his 1890 textbook “Principles of Economics”: “Although scientific machinery should be as definite as possible, at the same time it should be flexible.” He added, “There is so much variety in economic problems, economic causes are intermingled with others in so many different ways, that exact scientific reasoning will seldom bring us all the way to the conclusion for which we are seeking.”

SI Swimsuit Is Apparently Phasing Out Those Inconvenient Swimsuits (Deadspin)
The swimsuit issue outsells the average SI issue by some vast amount, supporting the whole financially-fraught institution. (No one there likes admitting this. When we once referred to the annual issue as Boobs: The Great Subsidy, a number of SI people registered their discontent.) Yes, the models sign off on presumably ghostwritten essays about how they feel empowered by being naked on the beach—good for them!—but the point seems to largely be to give SI companymen and -women a nice talking point to defend their creep-o product. (When we get pissy, defensive letters from otherwise smart employees, they invariably bring up the empowerment.)

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Opening Bell: 7.27.16

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Opening Bell: 5.10.16

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Opening Bell: 02.19.13

SAC’s Cohen May Face SEC Suit as Deposition Hurts Case (Bloomberg) U.S. investigators have subpoenaed a 2011 deposition of SAC Capital Advisors LP founder Steven Cohen, whose sworn statements on insider-trading compliance may hurt him as he tries to persuade regulators not to file a lawsuit with the potential to shut his $14 billion firm. The SEC told the hedge fund Nov. 20 that it planned to sue SAC for securities fraud and so-called control-person liability for failing to supervise employees. The same day, the agency accused an ex-SAC portfolio manager and his hedge-fund unit of insider trading for persuading Cohen, 56, to make $700 million in illegal trades. Prosecutors also indicted the manager. Cohen’s testimony, reviewed by Bloomberg News, establishes his personal control over the unit, CR Intrinsic, and records his unfamiliarity with his firm’s compliance and ethics policies on insider trading. “I’ve read the compliance manual, but I don’t remember exactly what it says,” Cohen said. Morgan Stanley Strives to Coordinate 2 Departments Often at Odds (Dealbook) Traditionally, traders and investment bankers think of themselves as the elite of Wall Street and look down on the retail business, seeing it as pedestrian...Yet since Morgan Stanley moved to acquire control of the Smith Barney brokerage business from Citigroup in 2009, the balance of power has shifted to wealth management, which now accounts for almost 52 percent of the company’s earnings, up from roughly 16 percent in 2006. Paulson Leads Funds to Bermuda Tax Dodge Aiding Billionaires (Bloomberg) A decade after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service threatened to crack down on what it said were abuses by hedge-fund backed reinsurers, more high-profile money managers are setting up shop in tax havens. Paulson, SAC Capital Advisors LP’s Steven A. Cohen and Third Point LLC’s Daniel Loeb have started Bermuda reinsurance companies since 2011, following a similar Cayman Islands venture by Greenlight Capital Inc.’s David Einhorn. Options Activity Questioned Again (WSJ) Over the past year, unusually large positions were established shortly in advance of news that moved shares of Nexen Inc., Youku Inc., Human Genome Sciences Inc., Constellation Brands Inc. and, most recently, CBS Corp. All turned profitable after the news. A spokeswoman for the SEC, which regulates stock and options trading, said the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of inquiries into trading tied to those companies. No charges have been filed in the Heinz case, which was linked to a Swiss trading account, but the move to freeze the assets is one of the fastest enforcement actions ever filed by the agency, according to officials. The SEC said Friday that the timing and size of the trades were highly suspicious given the account had no history of trading in Heinz securities in the last six months. Prosecutors, Shifting Strategy, Build New Wall Street Cases (Dealbook) Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks. In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations...The new strategy first materialized in recent settlements with UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which were accused of manipulating interest rates to bolster profit. As part of a broader deal, the banks’ Japanese subsidiaries pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud. Russians Wade Into the Snow to Seek Treasure From the Sky (NYT) Ever since the meteor exploded somewhere over this impoverished Siberian town, Larisa V. Briyukova wondered what to do with the fist-size stone she found under a hole in the roof tiles of her woodshed. On Monday, a stranger knocked on her door, offering about $60, Ms. Briyukova said. After some haggling, they settled on a price of $230. A few hours later, another man pulled up, looked at the hole in the roof and offered $1,300. “Now I regret selling it,” said Ms. Briyukova, a 43-year-old homemaker. “But then, who knows? The police might have come and taken it away anyway.” On Friday, terror rained from the skies, blowing out windows and scaring people over an enormous swath of Siberia. But by Monday, for many people what fell from the sky had turned to pure gold, and it touched off a rush to retrieve the fragments, many buried in deep February snows. Many of those out prospecting looked a lot like Sasha Zarezina, 8, who happily plunged into a snowbank here in this village of a thousand, laughing, kicking and throwing up plumes of powdery snow. Then she stopped, bent over and started to dig. “I found one!” she yelled. A warm breath and a rub on her pants later, a small black pebble, oval like a river rock, charred and smooth, was freed of ice. While trade in material from meteorites is largely illegal, there is a flourishing global market, with fragments widely available for sale on the Internet, usually at modest prices. At least one from the recent meteor was available on eBay on Monday for $32, and there is a Web site called Star-bits.com devoted to the trade — much to the displeasure of scientists and the countries where the objects were found. UK's Lloyds fined $6.7 million for mis-sold insurance (Reuters) Britain's financial regulator on Tuesday fined Lloyds Banking Group 4.3 million pounds ($6.7 million) for failing to handle complaints relating to insurance sold on loans and mortgages properly. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said failings in the bank's systems and controls resulted in up to 140,000 customers experiencing delays in receiving compensation for being mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). Horsemeat Scandal Draws in Nestlé (FT) Switzerland-based Nestle on Monday removed pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain and suspended deliveries of all processed products containing meat from German supplier, H.J. Schypke, after tests revealed traces of horse DNA above 1 per cent. Nestle said it had informed the authorities. Is Berlusconi Getting a Poll Bounce From Tax Evaders? (CNBC) The media mogul, who has been convicted of tax fraud, has promised to introduce a tax amnesty for evaders if elected and to abolish the real estate tax. Swelling U.S. Labor Force Keeps Fed at Ease (Bloomberg) In the short run, the larger labor force will have an unfortunate side effect: It will slow the fall in unemployment. Mellman sees the jobless rate dropping to 7.5 percent by year- end from 7.9 percent now. It fell 0.7 percentage point in 2012. In the longer run, a bigger supply of labor is good news because it swells the pool of Americans available and willing to work, enhancing the economy’s potential to grow, according to Julie Hotchkiss, a policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. It also has a silver lining for investors. The gradual fall in unemployment will allow policy makers to keep monetary policy looser for longer without having to worry about igniting a wage- driven rise in inflation. Couple Getting Affectionate Drive Through Home (WO) "She told the investigating trooper that her and the boyfriend were getting a little amorous and the trooper suspects that's probably why she lost control of the vehicle," said Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Montes. Walker lost control of the vehicle and slammed into an unoccupied home. The vehicle went all the way through the house. The impact was so dramatic, the pressure blew a window in another part of the house out. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Walker was injured when debris fell inside the vehicle. She was taken to Halifax Medical Center to be checked out. Her boyfriend, Charles Phillips, was not hurt.

Opening Bell: 07.31.12

RBS Braces Itself For Libor Deal (WSJ) RBS stands apart from the other banks caught up in a trans-Atlantic probe of the rate misdeeds because of the U.K. government's 83% stake in the lender. That has put U.K. authorities in an awkward position: They are under intense pressure to get tough on wayward banks but also are eager to protect the value of a taxpayer asset. Defendant in Insider Case: I Was Just Doing My Job (WSJ) Doug Whitman, a former hedge-fund manager, doesn't deny that he probed public companies for nonpublic information. But his criminal-defense team plans to argue that its client was doing exactly what he was supposed to do when he persuaded employees of public companies to give him information that those companies' top brass didn't want getting out. Mr. Whitman "was doing what every diligent, competent fund manager and analyst should do—checking up on companies' management to make sure they are being forthright with their investors," said David Anderson, Mr. Whitman's lead defense attorney, in an email. Tiger Management Helps Next Generation Funds (NYT) In a relatively young industry where stars can quickly fade, Tiger Management — and its myriad affiliates like Falcon Edge — is the closest thing to a hedge fund dynasty. After a brief career in finance, Mr. Robertson started Tiger in 1980 with seed money from friends and family. He regularly racked up double-digit returns by taking big positions in companies with good long-term growth prospects and aggressively betting against those stocks poised to fall. Mr. Robertson trained his young protégés — the so-called Tiger cubs — in the same tradition, creating the next generation of hedge funds stars. After leaving Tiger in 1993, Lee Ainslie started Maverick Capital, which currently manages roughly $10 billion. Stephen F. Mandel Jr. began Lone Pine Capital in 1997. Two years later, Andreas Halvorsen opened Viking Global. “We really gravitated to young people, and that was a great deal of our success,” said Mr. Robertson, 80, who often hired people in their 20s. “I was just an old goat with all these young geniuses around.” As the first wave of Tiger cubs age, they are breeding new funds, too. Blue Ridge Capital, where Mr. Gerson honed his skills, has been a particularly good incubator for talent. While Blue Ridge has subscribed to the long-term strategy of Tiger, the founder, Mr. Griffin, has infused the firm with his own philosophy. As a proponent of behavioral finance, he trained analysts like Mr. Gerson to identify how ego and emotion can affect the market and stock performance. Biggest Chapter Yet For A Poison Pen (WSJ) Daniel Loeb isn't one given to half-measures. The hedge-fund manager competes in triathlons, never, ever drinks from a plastic water bottle and is unsparing at times in his criticism of corporate executives. That is exactly how his investors like him. "I didn't give him the money to have a mellow Dan Loeb," said Hugh F. Culverhouse, a Miami investor whose family once owned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team. "If I want a mellow Dan Loeb, let me redeem."...The Yahoo campaign signals a new phase in Mr. Loeb's career. Until now, he was perhaps best-known for his poison-pen letters, in which he has scolded executives for everything from keeping relatives on the payroll to socializing at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Armed with a much bigger war chest—Third Point managed just $1.7 billion as of April 2009—Mr. Loeb can now aim for bigger targets. Mr. Loeb and his investors have a lot riding on a Yahoo revival. "If he makes money on his position, it will be good," said David Tepper, a fellow hedge-fund manager who has known Mr. Loeb for years. "If he doesn't make money, what is the point?" British man rescued off French Atlantic coast after being overcome with Olympic mania and trying to swim to America (DM) The unnamed 34 year old holidaymaker told his friends on the beach at Biarritz that he was off to New York to carry the Olympic spirit across the Atlantic. They thought he was joking but knowing that he was a strong swimmer decided to let him go telling him that a boat would come to rescue him if he got into difficulty. The man swam well beyond buoys 300 yards out to sea marking legal limits for bathing. Then, watched by lifeguards on the shore, he continued swimming until he was out of sight on his 3,594-mile journey. The lifeguards called out a helicopter and a diver dropped into the sea and explained to the man that it was not a good idea to swim across the Atlantic and advised him to head back towards France. He replied that he was a strong swimmer and felt up to it. At the same time lifeguards arrived in a rescue dinghy and threw the eccentric a line before towing him back to the beach. Laurent Saintespes, senior officer at Biarritz airbase told Agence France Presse, ‘He was a bit naive. But at a time when the Olympics are taking place in London you have to see the funny side of things’. Billionaire Jeff Greene On Democracy (NYM) Lately—like at a recent lunch with Steve Schwarzman, who has likened Obama to Hitler—Greene’s been trying another tactic. “Now I appeal to them selfishly,” he says. “ ‘Don’t you realize that if you don’t take care of this kid when they are 10 years old, you’ll take care of them when they are 20 and 100 instead? We just have to pay a little more taxes. It’s not going to kill us. You buy car insurance. Why not buy some democracy insurance?’ People think that Obama is this leftist, socialist guy,” he says. “But I don’t think they understand what people can go for when they are at the end of their line.” South Korean Youth Eschew Samsung Jobs For Facebook Dreams (Bloomberg) Not so long ago, South Korean students dreamed of lifetime jobs at Samsung Electronics Co. Now, many are shunning the juggernaut, intent on trying to emulate the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Sim Cheol Hwan, 27, is typical of the trend. He wants to take a break from college in Seoul to set up a company rather than line up for job interviews at Asia’s biggest electronics company paying an average of 77.6 million won ($68,300) a year. So he’s set himself up in his own business making apps for Samsung and Apple phones. “I don’t want to get a job at a top 10 Korean company,” said the Hanyang University engineering student, who spent two years in the military. “Zuckerberg’s success proves that there is a lot of money to be made” in startups. Regulators Target Day-Trading Firm (WSJ) In the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca, inside a garret up a narrow wooden staircase, four young men in T-shirts spend the day moving rapidly in and out of stocks, trying to ride their shifting momentum for profits. "It's very stressful," says one, dressed in a green T-shirt, blue shorts and Adidas sneakers. "The market is very hard to figure out." The four traders are part of a world-wide network initially set up by a Toronto-owned firm called Swift Trade Inc. Swift's founder, Peter Beck, turned it into one of the largest day-trading operations in the world over the past decade by aggressively expanding into far-flung locations, from China to Nicaragua to Romania, where he could recruit traders on the cheap. Mr. Beck also took an aggressive stance toward the law, say regulators in several countries where his firm has traded. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is expected on Tuesday to announce a settlement with Mr. Beck and an in-house brokerage unit for not establishing a supervisory system to prevent "a pattern of manipulative trading activity," according to a copy of the settlement reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The Best CFOs: A Wall Street Journal Ranking (WSJ) #16: Ann Marie Petach, BlackRock. Chewbacca costume head from ‘Star Wars’ sold for $172K (NYDN) A Chewbacca headpiece used in the original "Star Wars" trilogy sold for a whopping $172,200 at a movie memorabilia auction this weekend. The loyal and lovable walking carpet swept the competition, which included an "Edward Scissorhands" costume worn by Johnny Depp that sold for $86,100 and an Everlasting Gobstopper used in the 1971 movie "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" that sold for $49,200. The Chewie mask was described by auctioneer Profiles in History as the "finest full costume headpiece of Chewbacca from the original trilogy in private hands," and "the finest screen-correct Chewbacca costume head from the Star Wars trilogy known to exist." The eyes are actual casts of Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew's closed eyes, the auctioneer said. The expected price for the well-liked Wookie was between $60,000 and $80,000, plus fees and taxes, according to the auction catalog...Four years ago, someone spent a reported $240,000 to get the lightsaber prop used by actor Mark Hamill in the first two movies.