Opening Bell: 8.31.17

BNY Mellon has become the one and only repo man; blockchain is coming to trade settlement, for real; feel-good capitalism is in trouble; man bites bird; and more.
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New Worry in ‘Repo’: Just One Bank for $3.5 Trillion Market (WSJ)
Bank of New York’s onetime sole rival in the business of clearing U.S. Treasurys and repos backed by them, J.P. Morgan Chase, is exiting the business, prompting more than two dozen brokers to move to BNY. Individual brokers’ transitions have by all accounts been smooth. Yet many traders fret over the risks of having a single bank handle all clearing and settlement in a short-term lending market estimated by the Treasury at $3.5 trillion.

Six global banks join forces to create digital currency (FT)
Barclays, Credit Suisse, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, HSBC, MUFG and State Street have teamed up to work on the “utility settlement coin” which was created by Switzerland’s UBS to make financial markets more efficient.[...] The utility settlement coin aims to let financial groups pay each other or to buy securities, such as bonds and equities, without waiting for traditional money transfers to be completed.

Goldman plots return to banking growth mode through hires, investments (Reuters)
Goldman Sachs Group Inc plans to add about half a dozen senior bankers over the next six months or so and invest more in Asia using its balance sheet as the Wall Street firm seeks to switch to a growth mode in investment banking, a top executive said. After years of squeezing costs with lower headcount, tighter compensation and retrenchment from some segments in investment banking following the global financial crisis, Goldman is ready to change tack, said Gregg Lemkau, who was named co-head at its investment banking division in May.

Travis Kalanick's Great Defender Writes A Hell Of A Motivational Letter (Wired)
“Let us strike tomorrow with the full and fulsome courage of our convictions. Let our just cause give pause to those who would ever dream of ever emulating the shameful shenanigans of these sanctimonious hypocrites who fling filings and letters de haut en bas; when it is we who have the higher moral ground and our letters and filing will hail down upon their platforms, exposing them as bitterly barren barons of moral turpitude. And as the summer sets, we let us be steward of truth who in unison proclaim: fiat justitia ruat caelum.” ALSO: New Uber CEO Hints at 2019 IPO as He Takes Over Troubled Startup

Portfolios in Wonderland & The Weird Portfolio (Newfound Research)
We’ll be the first to admit that almost no investor would be willing to actually hold this portfolio. With nearly 25% of the portfolio in gold and long-term U.S. Treasuries, the tracking error alone would drive most investors mad. And all just for what amounts to a 1% bump in expected return. While 1% may not seem like much, in a low-return world it is nearly a 25% increase from a traditional stock/bond mix.

A Provocative Look at the Harm From Corporate Heft (WSJ)
The latest study goes even further, arguing the prevalence of market power helps explain deeper economic maladies. A company with such power often restricts production to prop up prices and profits. Messrs. De Loecker and Eeckhout argue this reduces demand for labor and thus explains why wages for low-skilled workers have stagnated in recent decades. Lower wages also discourage people from working, which depresses labor-force participation.

If Unilever Can’t Make Feel-Good Capitalism Work, Who Can? (Businessweek)
Proving a feel-good approach can deliver profits as well as plaudits is now an existential struggle for Unilever. Polman says he can do it. But he’s fighting some fundamental laws of the financial system. And if Unilever can’t make conscientious capitalism work, there’s little reason to believe anyone else can in numbers big enough to matter.

Maniac beheads pigeons, drinks their blood in crowded park (NYP)
While the man behind the fowl fatalities is known to sit in the Bryant Park fountain drinking beer, witnesses said he’s never gone after any of his feathered friends before. “He’s here every day, but I’ve never seen him do this before,” said Dominic.

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Opening Bell: 03.09.12

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

Opening Bell: 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: 02.27.13

Bernanke Affirms Bond Buying (WSJ) In his semiannual report to Congress Tuesday, Mr. Bernanke said the bond buying is helping the economy by holding down long-term interest rates and ought to be sustained. "Keeping long-term interest rates low has helped spark a recovery in the housing market and has led to increased sales and production of automobiles and other durable goods," he said. The Fed has accumulated $2.8 trillion of Treasury and mortgage securities. Mr. Bernanke's remarks signaled little change in the central bank's plans to purchase $85 billion a month of long-term Treasury and mortgage debt. The Fed's next policy meeting is March 19-20. Regulators Hope For Libor Pacts (WSJ) Regulators investigating alleged interest-rate manipulation are hoping to reach settlements with at least three major financial institutions by the end of summer, according to a person familiar with the probes. It isn't clear if the companies will go along with any proposed settlements, and previous agreements with banks were delayed before being completed. So far, regulators have settled rate-rigging charges with Barclays, RBS, and UBS collecting about $2.5 billion in penalties. All three banks admitted that employees sought to rig rates. Barclays to Unveil Numbers Earning 1 Million (FT) Barclays is set to reveal the number of staff who earned above 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) last year, in a push for transparency that could turn the bank into a trailblazer for the sector. In its annual report next week, the British retail and investment bank will for the first time give an outline of the various pay brackets among its 140,000 staff, people close to the situation said. Analysts estimate that between 600 and 700 employees – mostly in the investment bank – will be revealed as having taken home more than 1 million pounds last year. JPMorgan To Cut 17,000 Jobs (WSJ) The move announced Tuesday by the New York company, the nation's most profitable bank in 2012 and the biggest U.S. lender by assets, will reduce its staff by 6.5% in one of the most aggressive reductions to date amid widespread financial-industry cutbacks. Bond brawl: Singer v. Argentina today (NYP) Lawyers Ted Olsen and David Boies will appear before a Manhattan US appeals court to argue over how $1.44 billion in Argentina debt should be paid. Olsen represents billionaire hedge fund magnate Paul Singer, who claims he and other bondholder holdouts should be paid alongside those holders who agreed to a steep haircut during a debt restructuring. Argentina President Cristina Kirchner has long insisted she will never pay “one dollar” to the Singer holdouts. Boies represents the bondholders who agreed to the restructuring — and they oppose Singer, believing that Argentina will never go along with a pro-holdout ruling, thus putting their bonds at risk of default. Cops: Florida Man, 36, Assaulted Teen Relative With Taco Bell Burrito (TSG) The victim told cops that he was having a “verbal altercation” with his mother and Brown, his brother-in-law, when Brown “asked his mother to bring him the burrito,” according to an arrest affidavit. Brown then allegedly threw the burrito “with force” at the victim, striking the boy in the face with the fast food item. While interviewing the teen, cops noted that he had “burrito cheese, sauce and meat all over his clothing and face.” Brown told police that the victim was disrespectful to his mother and had cursed at the woman. He also acknowledged that he had “delivered” the burrito. After being booked into the county jail, Brown warned that he would “take care” of the teen upon his release from custody, adding that the victim “was going to get knocked out.” Best Buy Takeover Attempt by Founder in Jeopardy (Reuters) Best Buy founder Richard Schulze's effort to take the company private is in trouble after attempts to secure financing faltered while an alternative strategy to line up minority investors may not pan out either, five sources familiar with the matter said. No longer pursuing a full takeover bid for the troubled electronics retailer, Schulze has focused discussions in recent weeks on a potential deal in which private equity firms would buy a non-controlling stake, the sources, who declined to be named because the discussions are private, said. 'Penta-Millionaires' Happier Than Merely Rich: Study (CNBC) Breaking: A survey from Spectrem Group found that individuals worth $5 million or more are far more satisfied with their jobs, relationships and work than those worth $100,000 or less. Dimon Says Banks Have More Capital Than They Can Use (Bloomberg) The biggest U.S. banks are lending the smallest portion of their deposits in five years as cash floods in from savers, a slow economy damps demand from borrowers and regulators push financial firms to bolster themselves against any future credit crisis. The average loan-to-deposit ratio for the top eight commercial banks fell to 84 percent in the fourth quarter from 87 percent a year earlier and 101 percent in 2007, according to data compiled by Credit Suisse Group AG. JPMorgan had the lowest ratio in the group at 61 percent. “I don’t want to say it’s anti-American” to be held to international standards, Dimon said, adding that the bank’s assets include highly rated securities. “That balance sheet is almost as liquid as you can get.” Budweiser Has Been Sued 3 Times for Watering Down All Those Watery Beers (Atlantic Wire) The plaintiffs — including one guy who bought a case of Michelob Ultra a month, for some reason — allege that the public doesn't know what all the beers under the Budweiser umbrella really taste like, and that they're not getting their money's worth. There is no science backing up the defendants' claims, and AB InBev has yet to respond in court. The krux of the evidence comes from "information from former workers" of Anheuser-Busch breweries who claim watering down the beer in post-production is a company policy.

Opening Bell: 07.25.12

Sandy Weill: Break Up The Big Banks (CNBC) “What we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking, have banks be deposit takers, have banks make commercial loans and real estate loans, have banks do something that’s not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that’s not too big to fail,” Weill told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” He added: “If they want to hedge what they’re doing with their investments, let them do it in a way that’s going to be market-to-market so they’re never going to be hit.” Bank Of England Spotted Risks At JPMorgan (WSJ) More than a year before JPMorgan racked up billions of dollars in losses from bad trades in its London investment office, Bank of England officials raised concerns internally about potential risks arising from some of the office's activities, but didn't formally alert other regulators, according to people involved in the central bank's talks. In late 2010, employees at the central bank worried that the London arm of J.P. Morgan's Chief Investment Office had come to dominate some important corners of the city's financial markets—including residential mortgage-backed securities—and they were concerned about the potential impact that could have on the stability of U.K. markets, these people said. The concerns were relayed to a top central-bank oficial. But the Bank of England doesn't appear to have acted on the concerns or flagged them to regulators responsible for supervising J.P. Morgan. Private-equity bigs: no proof of bid-rigging (NYP) A handful of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful private-equity firms have asked a federal judge to toss an explosive investor lawsuit that claims the group conspired to rig the bids on $270 billion in deals over four years. The firms — including KKR, Bain Capital, Blackstone Group and Apollo Global Management — agreed not to bid on specific deals headed by a rival, thus fraudulently depressing the value of the deal. As a result, investors in those publicly-traded companies were short-changed. The group of 11 financial giants named in the suit, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, claim there is no evidence of a vast bid-rigging conspiracy. New York Fed Faces Questions Over Policing Wall Street (Dealbook) In recent years, the New York Fed has beefed up oversight. Under the president, William C. Dudley, the regulator has increased the expertise of its examiners and hired new senior officials. Even so, the JPMorgan debacle and the interest-rate investigation have raised questions about the New York Fed. They highlight how the regulator is hampered by its lack of enforcement authority and dogged by concerns that it is overly cozy with the banks. Fed Moves Closer To Action (WSJ) Amid the recent wave of disappointing economic news, conversation inside the Fed has turned more intensely toward the questions of how and when to move. Central bank officials could take new steps at their meeting next week, July 31 and Aug. 1, though they might wait until their September meeting to accumulate more information on the pace of growth and job gains before deciding whether to act. Sidekick of Soccer Mom Madam to court: It's not prostitution if you just pay to watch (NYDN) Jaynie Mae Baker, the woman busted with accused Manhattan brothel operator Anna Gristina, revealed in court papers filed Tuesday that the undercover cop who arrested her watched two women have sex but didn’t participate in any. Baker’s lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, says the only recorded conversation in evidence that includes Baker took place July 19, 2011, at a Manhattan restaurant where his client, Gristina and the cop had lunch. The cop tells Baker and Gristina he is “looking for a little adventure" and to “please corrupt me," but there's no talk of arranging payment, Gottlieb says in the filing. Six days later in the sting operation, the cop is secretly videotaped in a room with two other women at Gristina's alleged brothel on E. 78th St., but he does not participate in the sex. “The undercover officer apparently remains fully clothed and merely observed the two women perform for him,” Gottlieb writes...Gottlieb says there “was not a scintilla of evidence that was produced ... establishing Ms. Baker’s involvement in arranging payment in exchange for any kind of sexual activity.” What occurred not prostitution because the undercover cop was not a participant, Gottlieb says. If watching is prostitution, then every strip club and porno director is guilty, too, he said. Germans React Coolly To Moody's Warning (WSJ) Wolf Klinz, a German member of the European Parliament from the pro-business Free Democrats, Ms. Merkel's junior coalition partner, said he doesn't dispute Moody's conclusions about Germany's risks, but rather the timing of the announcement. "There are no hard facts yet" about Germany's ultimate price tag, Mr. Klinz said. "Why come out with this right now? It may have political implications" even if that wasn't the intention, he said. Preet hit with suit by law student (NYP) Second-year law student Benula Bensam sued Bharara, along with the US Marshals Service and the Justice Department, in Manhattan federal court for “unreasonable search and seizure” after the marshals took her cell phone away during the trial of ex-Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta. The 25-year-old Bensam, who is representing herself, said the marshals kept her phone overnight after she refused to answer their questions about letters she wrote to Judge Jed Rakoff during Gupta’s insider-trading trial. Bensam, who attends law school at Yeshiva University and lives in the Woodside section of Queens, stopped writing Rakoff about the case after he reprimanded her. In the complaint, Bensam said Bharara “may have instigated” her dispute with the marshals. Euro Zone as We Know It Has 2 Years Left: Jim O’Neill (CNBC) “Two years maximum is my perception of the time the euro zone has left to survive in its current form, though the reality is probably far less than that. Markets being markets we’ve unveiled a degree of speed with the Spanish and Italian bond yields and I can’t see us getting through the summer without some serious consequences,” said Jim O’Neill, Chairman at Goldman Sachs Asset Management. Child Treated After Being Bit By Rabid Bat Woman Gave Go-Ahead To Touch (CBS) Even as the summer fun rolls on for JoJo Keefe, a freshly healed cut on the 10-year-old’s finger reminds her of a scary detour. “I was like oh my God it bit me!” She’s talking about a rabid bat that sunk its tiny teeth into her finger last Tuesday during a visit to the Spencer Town Beach on Lake Whittemore. The small bat was attracting quite a bit of attention on the shoreline just beyond the picnic area. The trouble really began when a woman picked it up and began asking the children gathered around her if they wanted to hold it. “Another little girl said ‘oh I want to hold it will it bite me?’ And the lady was like no it’s the friendliest thing ever,” she says...Her mother retrieved the sick animal which then tested positive for rabies. Soon after, JoJo was getting the first in a series of life saving antibiotic shots (you can’t wait with rabies).

Opening Bell: 02.26.13

J.P. Morgan’s Investor Day: Cut That Headcount (Deal Journal) JP Morgan is looking to cut another $1 billion out of its expenses this year, including somewhere around 4,000 jobs, according to a new presentation...And that may not be all the cuts. In a separate presentation on the consumer bank and mortgage operations the bank expects to cut costs in mortgage banking by $3 billion over this year and next year and cut headcount there by between 13,000 and 15,000. Banks Face Hurdle In Libor Fight (WSJ) Next week, lawyers for Barclays PLC, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, UBS AG and more than a dozen other banks still under investigation are expected to ask a federal-court judge to throw out many of the suits, which seek class-action status. The suits, filed in civil court in California and New York by plaintiffs ranging from a retired cable-car driver in San Francisco to the city of Baltimore, have been piling up for nearly two years. They seek damages that could reach into the tens of billions of dollars from financial institutions that help determine the London interbank offered rate, or Libor. Barclays, RBS and UBS already have paid about $2.5 billion, and admitted wrongdoing, to settle rate-rigging allegations by U.S. and U.K. regulators. In court filings, lawyers for the 16 banks accused of wrongdoing say the lawsuits have no legal validity. The lawyers say regulatory settlements reached so far don't support the central allegation in most of the civil suits that banks engaged in illegal, anticompetitive behavior. Berlusconi Concedes as He Weighs Alliance (Bloomberg) Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi acknowledged rival Pier Luigi Bersani’s narrow victory in the lower house of Parliament and said he’s open to a broad alliance to avoid a second election. “Everyone needs to think what good can be done for Italy and this will take some time,” Berlusconi said in an interview with Canale 5, a station owned by his Mediaset SpA broadcaster. The country can’t be left without a government, he said. Lew gettin’ close: Senate panel to OK as next Treasury boss (NYP) Treasury Secretary-nominee Jack Lew will get the green light to replace Tim Geithner despite taking heat during and after his confirmation hearing over a loan he received from New York University. The 57-year-old former White House chief of staff has enough votes from the Senate Finance Committee, headed by Max Baucus (D-Mont.), to pass a vote today that will likely lead to his confirmation, sources said. A full Senate vote is likely to be scheduled in a couple of days and held sometime next week. Larry Summers: Sequestration 'Meat Cleaver' Is Irresponsible (CNBC) Avoiding the "sequester" is "round three" in the debt-reduction debate, former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told CNBC Tuesday, arguing for a "balanced approach" because President Barack Obama has agreed to more spending cuts than revenue during the process. In a "Squawk Box" interview, Summers said the funding constraints of the Budget Control Act of 2011 — which resolved that year's debt ceiling crisis — were round one. "You had spending cuts that were far larger from the discretionary side, that were far larger than anything [on revenue] that happened in December. Right now, we're way in balance toward more spending cuts." Dominique Strauss-Kahn seeks to ban 'half-man half-pig' book (Telegraph) The "biographical novel" by Marcela Iacub, a lawyer and journalist, recounts her seven-month affair with the 64-year-old Mr Strauss-Kahn last year. It is due to be published on Wednesday under the title, Belle et Bête, or Beauty and Beast. But the one-time Socialist presidential hopeful will this morning seek to have the book banned for "violation of the intimacy of private life" and the author and her publisher fined 100,000 euros (£88,000) in damages...In the work, she claims Mr Strauss-Kahn would have transformed the Elysée Palace into a "giant swingers' club" had he been elected French president. In fresh accounts by those who have read the book yesterday, the last chapter narrates the pair's final encounter, ending in Miss Iacub receiving treatment in casualty after "the pig" left her with an "eaten ear". Mr Strauss-Kahn has slammed the work of a woman who "seduces to write a book, claiming to have amorous feelings to exploit them for financial gain". Gupta's Gotta Pay GS $6.2 Million (NYP) Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta was ordered yesterday by a Manhattan federal judge to fork over a whopping $6.2 million to repay the Wall Street bank for legal fees it spent during the government’s probe of Gupta’s insider-trading case. The 64-year-old fallen star was convicted last year of giving up secrets he learned while on Goldman’s board to his pal and hedge fund honcho Raj Rajaratnam. Among the counts, the jury found Gupta guilty of giving Rajaratnam a tip on Warren Buffett’s $5 billion investment in Goldman in the throes of the financial crisis. Gupta, the former head of consulting firm McKinsey, is out on bail while he appeals the ruling. Goldman had requested restitution of $6.9 million — and submitted 542 pages of billing records from its lawyers at Sullivan Cromwell. Yahoo’s Mayer Risks Productivity With Work-From-Home Restriction (Bloomberg) Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s executive vice president of people and development, sent a memo last week asking employees with work-from-home arrangements to make their way to the company’s offices, starting June. “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” according to the memo, whose contents were confirmed by a Yahoo employee who asked not to be identified because it’s not a public document. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” At a time when Mayer is under pressure to jump-start growth and create innovative products, the shift may compromise Yahoo’s ability to attract employees seeking the freedom to work outside the office -- a perk offered by many of the company’s competitors. Research suggests that working from home enhances productivity, said Jody Thompson, co-founder of workforce consultant CultureRx. BP Oil-Spill Trial Begins (WSJ) Both Transocean and the Justice Department focused part of their opening statements on a 10-minute ship-to-shore phone call between two BP engineers, Donald Vidrine and Mark Hafle, less than an hour before the blast. From the rig, Mr. Vidrine allegedly talked about unusual results from a test designed to ensure the cement sealing in the bottom of the well was successful. Investigators later found that rig workers misinterpreted the results of the test. Dennis Rodman Bound For North Korea (Reuters) Retired U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman is to visit North Korea to film a television documentary and will arrive in the capital Pyongyang on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Rodman, now 51 years old, won five NBA championships in his prime, achieving a mix of fame and notoriety for his on- and off-court antics. Thirty-year-old North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has launched two long-range rockets and carried out a nuclear weapons test during his first year in power, is reported to be an avid NBA fan and had pictures taken with players from the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers during his school days in Switzerland. "At a time when tensions between the two countries (the United States and North Korea) are running high, it's important to keep lines of communication open, no matter how non-traditional those channels are," AP quoted Shane Smith, the founder of VICE, which is to make the TV series, as saying.

Opening Bell: 07.16.12

Citigroup Profit Beats Analysts’ Estimates On Investment Bank (Bloomberg) Citi reported a 12 percent drop in second-quarter profit that beat analysts’ estimates on revenue from advising on mergers and underwriting stocks and bonds. Net income declined to $2.95 billion, or 95 cents a share, from $3.34 billion, or $1.09, a year earlier, the New York-based bank said today in a statement. Excluding accounting adjustments and a loss from the sale of a stake in a Turkish bank, earnings were $1 a share, compared with the average estimate of 89 cents in a Bloomberg survey of 18 analysts. HSBC Seeks To Evict Occupiers In Hong Kong (WSJ) HSBC said Monday it is seeking the right to evict an encampment of protesters that has been occupying the ground floor of the bank's Hong Kong headquarters since October, drawing inspiration from the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York last year. Libor Flaws Allowed Banks To Rig Rates Without Conspiracy (Bloomberg) FYI: “It is far easier to manipulate Libor than it may appear,” Andrew Verstein, a lecturer at Yale Law School, said in a paper to be published in the Winter 2013 issue of the Yale Journal on Regulation. “No conspiracy is required.” States Join Libor Probe (WSJ) Prosecutors in New York and Connecticut are investigating whether their states incurred losses as a result of interest-rate manipulation by banks, a probe that could lead to a wider multistate enforcement action, according to New York officials. The joint probe by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen could lead to civil enforcement action, including possible breaches of antitrust and fraud laws, the officials said. Libor Probe May Yield Criminal Charges By September (Bloomberg) Barclays traders involved in allegedly manipulating Libor rates between 2005 and 2007 may be charged by U.S. prosecutors before the Labor Day holiday on Sept. 3, said a person familiar with the Justice Department investigation in Washington. Zuckerberg’s Loan Gives New Meaning To The 1% (Bloomberg) The Facebook founder refinanced a $5.95 million mortgage on his Palo Alto, California, home with a 30-year adjustable-rate loan starting at 1.05 percent, according to public records for the property. Missteps Doomed Barclays Leaders (WSJ) Mr. Diamond's downfall may have been hastened because the U.S.-born investment banker, who became chief executive at the start of 2011, had never won acceptance by Britain's political and financial establishment. When the rate-fixing scandal erupted, Mr. Diamond had few allies. It wasn't for lack of trying. Mr. Diamond enthusiastically embraced British culture and tried to overcome his reputation as a brash American. Mr. Diamond, a native of Concord, Mass., supported the Chelsea Football Club, handing out trophies himself when the team won England's premier soccer league in 2010. A month before the Libor settlement, Mr. Diamond hosted British aristocrats and Barclays' clients at the annual Chelsea Flower Show, providing Champagne and canapés as his guests inspected elaborate gardens and floral arrangements...But Mr. Diamond, age 60, was criticized for his lofty pay packages, as well as perceived risks in the investment-banking business he built. He sometimes appeared tone deaf in a country still angry about the role of banks in the financial crisis. "There was a period of remorse and apology," he told Parliament last year. "That period needs to be over." Activists Go After Big Game (WSJ) William Ackman's $2 billion bet that he can boost the value of consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble Co. reflects a new era of activist investing, in which no company is too big a target and restless institutional investors are more willing to rock the boat. Mr. Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management LP owns a little more than 1% of P&G's shares. A few years ago, that would have been considered too small a stake in too big a company to exert much influence on management, the board or other investors. Tax Cuts Perpetuate Inequality, Should End: Summers (CNBC) The United States should not extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans even as the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ looms because it will perpetuate income inequality, says Larry Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary. Instead, these revenues should go towards strengthening public education and ensuring that low-income students are presented with equal opportunities as their wealthy counterparts so that they can participate in the economy. Tax breaks for the wealthy cannot continue to exist because it leads to a “perpetuation of privilege”, Summers said in the editorial in the Financial Times on Sunday. Unless steps were taken to “responsibly” increase the burden on those with high income and redistribute the proceeds, the trend toward inequality will continue, he said. Devils On The (B)rink (NYP) New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek is talking to private-equity firms and hedge funds about buying into his financially strapped team, according to sources close to the situation Vanderbeek is looking to sell a majority stake, but keep operating control, sources said. The talks, coming three weeks after the 55-year old former Wall Street executive seemed close to inking a deal with an investor to save the team, are leading some in the financial world to believe the deal has fallen apart. If that’s so, it would be a terrible break for Vanderbeek, who is facing an Aug. 14 deadline to get the Devils’ financing in order...Creditors are owed $80 million. Downgrade Anniversary Shows Investors Gained Buying U.S. (Bloomberg) When Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. government’s credit rating in August, predictions of serious fallout soon followed. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney described it as a “meltdown” reminiscent of the economic crises of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. He warned of higher long-term interest rates and damage to foreign investors’ confidence in the U.S. U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the government’s loss of its AAA rating would raise the cost of mortgages and car loans. Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer of Pacific Investment Management Co., said over time the standing of the dollar and U.S. financial markets would erode and credit costs rise “for virtually all American borrowers.” They were wrong. Almost a year later, mortgage rates have dropped to record lows, the government’s borrowing costs have eased, the dollar and the benchmark S&P stock index are up, and global investors’ enthusiasm for Treasury debt has strengthened. Woman tells police man sucked her toe at Grovetown Walmart (AC) The 18-year-old said she was shopping when a man, who looked to be in his late 30s or early 40s, walked up and asked if her toenails were painted, according to a Columbia County Sheriff’s Office incident report. After replying yes and questioning why he wanted to know, the woman was asked if she’d watched America’s Funniest Home Videos. The man told her he was with the TV show and if she complied with his requests, everything she purchased that day would be free. She said she reluctantly agreed to let him take a photo of her foot. He asked if he could kiss her foot as part of the prank and she agreed. The man guided her to an area behind a clothing rack, dropped to the floor, grabbed her ankle and told her, “Don’t worry. I don’t bite.” He then started sucking on her big toe. The woman said she screamed at him to stop. Before the man ran from the store, he told her, “It tasted so good, though.”

Opening Bell: 10.24.12

Hedge Funds Belt Few Home Runs (WSJ) They are the few. The proud. The hedge-fund managers making a killing this year. David Tepper's firm was up about 25% through Friday, partly from a bet Europe will avoid a meltdown. Steve Mandel's firm gained nearly as much from soaring consumer and technology stocks. Pine River Capital Management rose 30% thanks in part to subprime mortgages, as did Josh Birnbaum's Tilden Park. And the Barnegat Fund has climbed over 39% with a debt strategy that the manager concedes isn't for the faint of heart. The big gains, as reported by fund investors and people familiar with the firms, come as most hedge funds struggle for the fourth year a row, the longest period of underperformance since 1995 to 1998. Hedge funds on average gained 4.7% through September, according to industry tracker HFR, while stock-trading funds were up on average 5.5%. By comparison, the Standard & Poor's 500 index scored gains of 14%, including dividends, through Friday. Bond Investors Put Faith In A More Stable Africa (WSJ) Last month, Zambia raised $750 million with a 10-year global bond in an auction that drew offers worth more than 15 times that amount. Nigeria in September sold 30 million naira ($192,000) in five-year bonds, to demand twice as high. Spurred by the heavy interest, Rwanda wants to issue a global bond by June and Kenya is planning one as early as next year. Investors' willingness to step up to buy African bonds is another sign of their thirst for yield. Efforts by the Federal Reserve and other major central banks to push down interest rates and buy developed-market bonds have driven investors further and further afield. Africa, a continent of more than 50 countries, is considered one of the last investing frontiers—many of its nations have been isolated from international markets, in part due to a history of default by some countries. Sir Mervyn King: no recovery until banks recapitalise (Telegraph) Raising the prospect of rights issues or even another taxpayer bail-out for the state-backed lenders Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, Sir Mervyn King said UK banks have “insufficient capital” to protect against undeclared losses on their books. FDIC Gets Windfall In Bank-Failure Settlement (WSJ) International Paper Co has agreed to pay the FDIC to settle a year-old lawsuit stemming from the 2009 collapse of Guaranty Financial Group, an Austin, Texas, company that ranks as the fifth-biggest U.S. bank failure. As part of the agreement, the failed bank's creditors will get an added $38 million, bringing the total settlement to $80 million. Although International Paper, Memphis, Tenn., didn't have any direct connection until this year to the banking industry or to the failed Texas bank, its involvement in the case demonstrates the long tentacles of the financial crisis. International Paper was pulled into the case in February when it bought packaging firm Temple-Inland Inc., which had owned Guaranty for nearly two decades before spinning it off into an independent company in 2007. Guaranty failed less than two years later, weighed down by toxic securities that were backed by adjustable-rate mortgages. It had 162 branches and $13.5 billion in assets. The bank's deteriorating securities portfolio was the subject of a page-one article in The Wall Street Journal just before it failed. The failure cost the FDIC's deposit-insurance fund $1.29 billion, according to an estimate published on the agency's website. RBS Settles Over Loans In Nevada (NYT) The Royal Bank of Scotland agreed to pay $42.5 million late Tuesday in a settlement with the Nevada attorney general that ends an 18-month investigation into the deep ties between the bank and two mortgage lenders during the housing boom. Most of the money paid by R.B.S. — $36 million — will be used to help distressed borrowers throughout Nevada. In addition, R.B.S. agreed to finance or purchase subprime loans in the future only if they comply with state laws and are not deceptive. The settlement between the bank and Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada’s attorney general, relates to conduct at Greenwich Capital, the R.B.S. unit that bundled mortgages into securities and sold them to investors. Nevada found that R.B.S. worked closely with Countrywide Financial and Option One, two of the most aggressive lenders during the boom. Aurora Bird Hoarder: ‘I Was Obsessed’ (CBS) Outside of his west suburban Aurora townhome Monday, Dave Skeberdis admitted right away: “I am a hoarder.” “I did let the birds multiply. I admit, I was obsessed,” he said. “But I’m a regular person.” Skeberdis, 57, estimated that there are 200 birds of varying species inside his townhome in the 200 block of Shadybrook Lane. He returned to the home Monday to feed the birds. “It’s condemned, but they can’t stop me from going into the house,” he said. “I don’t really want to lose them, but this is too many birds.” On Monday, Skeberdis, who is employed in the information technology field, said he can now understand that his bird collecting is out of control. He said he is from a family of hoarders. “I think it’s time for a change in my life,” Skeberdis said...Skeberdis, who is not married, acquired his first bird seven years ago, he said, on April 15, 2005. While working in computer support at United Airlines, he “rescued” a parakeet, and later named the bird “Doc.” “I saved his life, and he saved mine,” Skeberdis said. Over time, he bought and adopted more birds. Those birds include a Chinese Quail named “Demon,” blind bird “Longstreet” and scalped bird “Liz Cojack,” and a white baby parakeet he hand-fed and once carried to work with him in a briefcase. Appeal In Insider Trading Case Centers On Wiretaps (Dealbook) In March 2008, the Justice Department made an extraordinary request: It asked a judge for permission to record secretly the phone conversations of Raj Rajaratnam, a billionaire hedge fund manager. The request, which was granted, was the first time the government had asked for a wiretap to investigate insider trading. Federal agents eavesdropped on Mr. Rajaratnam for nine months, leading to his indictment — along with charges against 22 others — and the biggest insider trading case in a generation. On Thursday, lawyers for Mr. Rajaratnam, who is serving an 11-year prison term after being found guilty at trial, will ask a federal appeals court to reverse his conviction. They contend that the government improperly obtained a wiretap in violation of Mr. Rajaratnam’s constitutional privacy rights and federal laws governing electronic surveillance...Such a ruling is considered a long shot, but a reversal would have broad implications. Not only would it upend Mr. Rajaratnam’s conviction but also affect the prosecution of Rajat K. Gupta, the former Goldman Sachs director who was convicted of leaking boardroom secrets to Mr. Rajaratnam...A decision curbing the use of wiretaps would also affect the government’s ability to police Wall Street trading floors, as insider trading cases and other securities fraud crimes are notoriously difficult to build without direct evidence like incriminating telephone conversations. Ex-Goldman Director Gupta Awaits Sentence In Insider Trading Case (Reuters) Gupta's lawyers have requested that he be spared prison, citing his work with groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on fighting disease in developing countries. Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp's co-founder, and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan are among the luminaries who have urged Rakoff to be lenient. As one alternative to prison, the defense proposed "a less orthodox" plan in which Gupta would live and work with Rwandan government officials to help fight HIV/AIDS and malaria in rural districts, court papers said. Federal prosecutors, however, argue that Gupta should serve eight to 10 years in prison. Companies Are Sitting On More Cash Than Ever Before (CNBC) Amid a lackluster earning season that has featured many companies missing sales expectations, cash balances have swelled 14 percent and are on track toward $1.5 trillion for the Standard & Poor's 500, according to JPMorgan. Both levels would be historic highs. Denny's heads to Middle-earth with 'Hobbit'-inspired menu (LA Times) It’s Bilbo Baggins time down at Denny’s, which is rolling out a menu and marketing campaign based on the upcoming film “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” The 11 new menu items are enough to satisfy the diminutive creatures’ six-meal-a-day habit, with options such as Shire Sausage, Bilbo’s Berry Smoothies, Build Your Own Hobbit Slam and Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies. The film, based on the novel by “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien, opens Dec. 14. The limited Denny’s offer will run from Nov. 6 through January, according to the chain.