Opening Bell: 9.14.17

Steve Mnuchin loves using government planes for personal matters; Ackman is a one-man good-cop-bad-cop; Equifax's login credentials were "admin/admin"; London's "total monster fatberg"; and more.
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Treasury Secretary Mnuchin requested government jet for European honeymoon (ABC News)
Officials familiar with the matter say the highly unusual ask for a U.S. Air Force jet, which according to an Air Force spokesman could cost roughly $25,000 per hour to operate, was put in writing by the secretary's office but eventually deemed unnecessary after further consideration of by Treasury Department officials.

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Saudis Prepare for Possible Aramco IPO Delay to 2019 (BBG)
Saudi Arabia is preparing contingency plans for a possible delay to the initial public offering of its state-owned oil company by a few months into 2019, according to people familiar with the matter. While the government is still aiming for a Saudi Aramco IPO in the second half of next year, that timetable is increasingly tight for what’s likely to be the biggest share sale in history, the people said, asking not to be named discussing internal deliberations.

Bill Ackman is playing Jekyll-and-Hyde with ADP (NYP)
It looks like Bill Ackman is trying Jekyll-and-Hyde tactics to shake up Automatic Data Processing’s board. The activist investor’s hedge fund Pershing Square said Wednesday that it wants to replace three of ADP’s board members as he pressed the payroll processor to cut costs and update its technology. That’s an abrupt turn from last week, when Ackman told ADP’s board in a letter that he preferred to avoid a proxy fight and instead have his three nominees added to an expanded board.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to a CLO Rule Rollback (Gadfly)
A funny thing happened on the way to this market's death and destruction. Since these risk-retention rules went into effect, CLO sales have actually risen, with the $73 billion of such issuances so far this year already eclipsing 2016’s full-year total. Not only that, but an entire ecosystem has been created around financing the portion of risk in each deal that needs to be retained.

How I Snatched 153,037 ETH After A Bad Tinder Date (Medium)
[Long story short: Guy finds Ethereum vulnerability and steals massive amount of ether. Anonymous and unverifiable.] Look, here’s the thing. If you’re holding 30 million dollars in 250 lines of code that you haven’t audited, then it’s on you. Seriously. It takes any half-decent appsec guy less than one man-day to fleece those 250 lines. At most, that would cost them a few thousands of dollars. They didn’t do it because they wanted it all for free. They didn’t do it because they’re greedy and cheap. They absolutely deserve this.

Meet the Earth’s Largest Money-Market Fund (WSJ))
Xu Xiaoyan, an IT manager in Shanghai, sees Yu’e Bao as a simple and safe cash-management tool. Since April 2014, the 32-year-old has been plowing 20% to 30% of her monthly salary into the fund. “I am not too concerned about what Alibaba does with my money since it’s too big to collapse,” said Ms. Xu, “I’m happy that the monthly yield can buy me at least a cup of milk tea.” She currently has about $775 in the fund.

Ayuda! (Help!) Equifax Has My Data! (Krebs on Security)
Holden’s team spent some time examining Equifax’s South American operations online after the company disclosed the breach involving its business units in North America. It took almost no time for them to discover that an online portal designed to let Equifax employees in Argentina manage credit report disputes from consumers in that country was wide open, protected by perhaps the most easy-to-guess password combination ever: “admin/admin.”

Bodega Isn’t Just Bad Branding, It’s Bad Business (Eater)
Fortunately for its critics, and unfortunately for McDonald, Rajan, and their investors, Bodega faces more obstacles than just a morning of high-intensity Twitter loathing. A range of conveniently located, beautifully merchandised kiosks with an easy app-based point of sale and an evolving range of user-calibrated products seems like a nice, attractive idea. But something like that is built on an intensely complex logistical apparatus — and any mention of that sort of thing seems to be missing from McDonald and Rajan’s talking points, which focus mostly on what they call “the last hundred feet.”

'Total monster': fatberg blocks London sewage system (Guardian)
A fatberg weighing the same as 11 double decker buses and stretching the length of two football pitches is blocking a section of London’s ageing sewage network. The congealed mass of fat, wet wipes and nappies is one of the biggest ever found and would have risked raw sewage flooding on to the streets in Whitechapel, east London, had it not been discovered during a routine inspection earlier this month. Now workmen armed with shovels and high-powered jets are working seven days a week to break it up. The grim task is expected to take three weeks.

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Opening Bell: 01.31.13

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

Opening Bell: 01.09.13

UBS Says Cleaning Up Its Act After Libor 'Shocker' (Reuters) UBS has yet to fully purge itself of a global interest rate scandal that has cost the Swiss bank its reputation and put it at risk of a wave of costly civil suits, its investment banking chief said on Wednesday. The once-venerable institution was fined a record $1.5 billion last month for manipulating Libor interest rates, the latest in a string of scandals including a $2.3 billion rogue trading loss and a damaging tax avoidance row with the United States. "We are very focused on recovering the honor and standing the organisation had in the past," Andrea Orcel told Britain's Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, set up in the aftermath of the Libor scandal. "I am convinced that we have made a lot of progress. I am also convinced that we still need to do more." [...] Committee member Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, asked Orcel if he was the right man to turn UBS around. "I feel I have a high level of integrity," the banker said. Orcel said that UBS was working at simplifying the investment banking business to make it less risky and prone to scandal. The committee, a cross-party panel of lawmakers headed by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, is switching its focus to standards and culture after spending most of the past three months assessing structural reform. Tyrie on Wednesday described the Libor rigging as "a shocker of enormous proportions". Button-Down Central Bank Bets It All (WSJ) Switzerland, for decades a paragon of safety in finance, is engaged in a high-risk strategy to protect its export-driven economy, literally betting the bank in a fight to contain the prices of Swiss products sold abroad. The nation's central bank is printing and selling as many Swiss francs as needed to keep its currency from climbing against the euro, wagering an amount approaching Switzerland's total national output, and, in the process, turning from button-down conservative to the globe's biggest risk-taker. JPMorgan Overhaul Widens (WSJ) The shift of Mr. Maclin and the departure of Mr. Staley, who once was seen as a top candidate to succeed James Dimon as chief executive, are the latest steps in a drastic reshaping of J.P. Morgan's executive suite. Many of the new leaders—a group that includes corporate and investment-bank co-heads Mike Cavanagh and Daniel Pinto, co-chief operating officer Matthew Zames and Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake—are in their 40s. Mr. Cavanagh and Mr. Zames, who were asked last May to unwind a series of botched bets placed by a trader in the bank's Chief Investment Office known as the "London whale," are viewed as front runners for the top job, said people close to the bank. Ackman Braces for Legal Battle Over Herbalife (FBN) If filed, the lawsuit could involve alleged “tortuous interference,” implying Ackman intentionally damaged Herbalife’s business relationships, people close to Ackman said. On Tuesday, a large Herbalife distributor said he was leaving the company and called on other distributors to join him amid the controversy. In a sign of the importance of its distribution channels, Herbalife says in regulatory filings its relationship with and ability to influence distributors are items that can “materially” affect its financial condition. As of late Tuesday, people with knowledge of the matter said no decision on timing or even if a lawsuit will actually be filed had been made. The company has told FOX Business it is weighing legal action against Ackman. Ackman declined to comment on the matter. Herbalife has hired famed attorney David Boies to launch possible litigation against Ackman as well as the investment bank Moelis & Co., as its financial adviser. Goldman Will Report Fund Values Each Day (WSJ) In a reversal of industry practice, Goldman Sachs Group will begin disclosing the values of its money-market mutual funds daily rather than monthly, according to people familiar with the company's plans. Some of the changes will take effect as early as Wednesday...According to people familiar with Goldman's thinking, the company is beefing up its disclosures to satisfy investors' calls for greater transparency on fluctuations in the price of their investments. Brazil prostitutes to learn English ahead of World Cup (AP) Prostitutes in one of Brazil's biggest cities are beginning to sign up for free English classes ahead of this year's Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup. The president of the Association of Prostitutes of the city of Belo Horizonte says by telephone that 20 have already signed up for the courses and she expects at least 300 of the group's 4,000 members to follow suit. The association is organizing the classes and seeking volunteer teachers. Prostitution is legal in Brazil. Belo Horizonte will host six World Cup matches and Vieira said Tuesday "it will be important for the girls will be able to use English to let their clients know what they are charging and learn about what turns them on." AIG Cites Duty to Weigh Suing U.S. as Lawmaker Criticism Mounts (Bloomberg, related) American International Group said it has a duty to weigh joining a suit by former Chief Executive Officer Maurice “Hank” Greenberg that claims the insurer’s 2008 U.S. bailout was unconstitutional. “The board of directors has fiduciary and legal obligations to the company and its shareholders to consider the demand served on us,” CEO Robert Benmosche said yesterday in a statement. The board is scheduled to meet today to hear arguments from representatives of Greenberg and the U.S. Lawmakers including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Robert Menendez and Representative Peter Welch said New York-based AIG shouldn’t join the suit. “Taxpayers are still furious that they rescued a company whose own conduct brought it down,” Welch said in a letter to AIG Chairman Steve Miller. “Don’t rub salt in the wounds with yet another reckless decision.” Vow of New Light For 'Dark' Trades (WSJ) Richard Ketchum, chief executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, said in an interview Tuesday that the regulator is expanding its oversight of the dark-trading venues, with an eye on whether orders placed in public exchanges are "trying to move prices or encourage sellers that may advance their trading in the dark market." The regulator also is boosting its surveillance of high-speed trading and is increasingly looking at rapid-fire trading across exchanges, he said. "You're going to see more [focus] in those areas in 2013," Mr. Ketchum said. Goldman, Morgan Stanley to Settle on Foreclosures (Reuters) Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among a group of banks expected to agree as soon as this week to a $1.5 billion settlement with federal regulators over botched foreclosure claims, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The accord would come on the heels of a separate $8.5 billion settlement announced on Monday with 10 bigger mortgage servicers, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo...Goldman and Morgan Stanley's respective roles in the settlement stems from mortgage-servicing businesses that the two investment banks purchased in the run-up to the subprime mortgage crisis, and have since sold. Goldman had owned Litton Loan Servicing and Morgan Stanley owned Saxon Capital. Taco Bell responds to teen's request for a custom Speedo (LI) The week before Christmas, 15-year-old Ryan Klarner posted on Taco Bell’s Facebook page, introducing himself with a rundown of his swimming and diving achievements before making an offbeat request. “[I]s there any way you guys could make me a customized Speedo that says think outside the buns on the back of it? If you did, that would mean the world to me,” the Illinois teen asked...Klarner said he first came up with the idea a couple of years earlier and decided last month to go ahead and ask, even though he never had asked a company on Facebook for anything before. “I did not expect it to blow up as much as it has. I didn’t really expect to get the Speedo out of it, either,” he said. But last Wednesday, the social media team at Taco Bell wrote back. “What size do you wear? And what’s your address?” “He really wanted something and he went after it,” Tressie Lieberman, director of digital and social engagement, said. When we think people are really extraordinary...then we want to reward them.”

Opening Bell: 10.7.15

Fantasy sports probe; Ackman says GE was too expensive; TPG raises real estate fund; Steve Cohen is loving life; "College bro arrested over mac-and-cheese rant at food court"; and more.

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Opening Bell: 1.27.17

Ackman tries subtlety for a change; hedge funds hit paydirt tracking planes; at least one Burger King has a secret weed menu; and more.

Opening Bell: 11.15.12

FSA Warns Global Banks Over Bonus Levels (FT) Global banks operating in London have been warned by the top UK bank supervisor that this year’s staff bonuses must reflect the mis-selling and market manipulation scandals that have damaged the sector in the past 12 months. Andrew Bailey, head of the Financial Services Authority’s prudential business unit, wrote to bank chief executives in late October ahead of this year’s bonus round warning them that the watchdog would be looking for evidence they had “clawed back” deferred bonuses from people involved in scandals. He also urged banks to consider firm-wide bonus reductions to account for the impact of the scandals. The letter went not only to UK banks but also global institutions with substantial presences in the country. Blankfein Backs Higher Taxes (NYP) “I believe that tax increases, especially for the wealthiest, are appropriate,” Blankfein wrote in his 1,000-plus-word column entitled “The Business Plan for American Revival.” He added that raising taxes needed to be coupled with “serious” cuts to discretionary spending and entitlements. JPMorgan Energy Unit Curbed (WSJ) U.S. energy-market regulators Wednesday handed J.P. Morgan Chase's energy-trading unit a six-month suspension from some of its activities in electricity markets, the latest in a string of clashes with Wall Street. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission cited false information it has said the company submitted as part of a probe into alleged market manipulation. It was a rare move for the commission and another signal that it is trying to assert itself as a regulatory heavy hitter. The agency, which oversees transmission lines and natural-gas pipelines, also recently proposed a record penalty of nearly $470 million against Barclays for alleged market manipulation. Barclays denies the charges. FHA Nears Need For Taxpayer Funds (WSJ) The Federal Housing Administration is expected to report this week it could exhaust its reserves because of rising mortgage delinquencies, according to people familiar with the agency's finances, a development that could result in the agency needing to draw on taxpayer funding for the first time in its 78-year history. Fed Moves Toward Tying Interest-Rate Decisions to Economic Data (Bloomberg) Policy makers “generally favored the use of economic variables” to provide guidance on the when they are likely to approve their first interest-rate increase since 2008, according to minutes of their Oct. 23-24 meeting released yesterday. Such measures might replace or supplement a calendar date, currently set at mid-2015. Israel Wages Twitter War With Hamas Over #Gaza Attacks (BusinessWeek) The Israeli Defense Forces took to its Twitter account yesterday to announce “a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the Gaza Strip” even as its jets began attacking. Within minutes, Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, announced through its English-language account the assassination of its “top leader Ahmed Jabari” by “Israeli drones.” As Israeli jets bombarded suspected missile facilities and other buildings in Gaza, the service run by San Francisco-based Twitter lit up with 140-character chronicles of the assault and the reaction. Most of the messages known as tweets were identified with #Gaza, a “hashtag” with a pound sign before a key word that lets those on Twitter search for information. The two sides even fought for sympathy through the names they gave the operation. While Israeli tweeters called it #PillarOfDefense, Palestinians used #GazaUnderAttack. As airstrikes intensified, an IDF spokesman tweeted that “we recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces aboveground in the days ahead.” Hamas’s @AlqassamBrigades account quickly retorted, “@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves.” Hedge Funds Back Off Apple (NYP) Lee Ainslie’s Maverick Capital, Chase Coleman’s Tiger Global, Eric Mindich’s Eton Park Capital, David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital and Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors each pared their Apple positions during the quarter, according to reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission filed yesterday...Despite selling off Apple shares, the tech titan remains one of the biggest holdings for Maverick, Tiger Global and Greenlight. In fact, its slide pushed their monthly returns negative. Jobless Claims Rise Following Storm (WSJ) People seeking unemployment benefits increased by 78,000 to a seasonally adjusted 439,000 in the week ended Nov. 10, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 375,000 new applications for jobless benefits. Bank of America Slashes $4.75 Billion Off Mortgages (CNBC) The bank, which took on the burden of Countrywide Financial’s mortgage ills when it bought the company, has completed or approved a total of $15.8 billion in consumer relief for about 164,000 homeowners as of Sept. 30 and is on track, according to officials, to meet its total financial obligations within the first year of the three-year agreement. South Africa holds diamond smuggler who swallowed 220 gems (BBC) South African police have arrested a man who they say swallowed 220 polished diamonds in an attempt to smuggle them out of the country. The man was arrested as he waited to board a plane at Johannesburg airport. Officials said a scan of his body revealed the diamonds he had ingested, worth $2.3m (£1.4m; 1.8m euros), inside.