Opening Bell: 10.31.17

The ETF price wars are getting bloodier; SEC employees happen to be pretty good stockpickers; bonuses are back, baby; Louisiana supreme court decides that man requesting a "lawyer, dawg" could have wanted a "lawyer dog"; and more.
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By ETF Group / ETF Ride Systems (http://www.etf.nl/media/PDF/ETF_Mystic_Mover.pdf) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By ETF Group / ETF Ride Systems via Wikimedia Commons

ETF price wars deepen as Deutsche cuts fees at flagship fund (FT)
Deutsche Bank’s asset management trimmed the expense ratio of its $281m Xtrackers USD High Yield Corporate Bond ETF from 25 basis points to 20bp, making it about half as expensive as the two big junk bond ETFs from BlackRock and Vanguard. That means it costs 20 cents annually to buy $100 worth of the ETF. Also on Monday, Franklin Templeton Investments unveiled a series of 16 ETFs that track the stocks of a country or region, such as Australia, Germany, Japan or Europe as a whole, most of which cost just 9bp annually.

Study: SEC Employees Earn Insider-Trading-Like Returns (II)
Employees at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earn investment returns similar to the insider traders they prosecute, according to new research from Columbia University and Arizona State University. A portfolio mimicking trades made by SEC employees between 2009 and 2011 earned excess risk-adjusted returns of about 4 percent a year for all securities, with abnormal gains jumping to 8.5 percent when only stocks of firms based and registered in the U.S. were tracked.

Wall Street bankers are getting bigger bonuses again (NYP)
The average banker bonus in 2017 is poised to get fatter for the second straight year, as hopes for deregulation have led to a flurry of trading and underwriting on Wall Street, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The bonus projections outpace the 1 percent rise seen in 2016, but checks mailed out next spring will still fall far short of the all-time high of $180,420 in 2006.

Bets on the Next Fed Chair: A History of Speculation Gone Wrong (WSJ)
Investors expected Mr. Volcker to tackle runaway inflation with tighter monetary policy, meaning higher short-term rates, and they were right. But after his appointment, many bet that a Fed chair committed to bringing down inflation meant lower long-term bond yields, a lower gold price and a stronger dollar. They made money for about two weeks, before being crushed.

Pimco Quants Find Stocks Need a Better Hedge Than Just Bonds (BBG)
“For most of the past 20-plus years, bonds have fulfilled this role in portfolios, aided by a substantial tailwind of stable or falling inflation,” Pimco analysts wrote in a draft report seen by Bloomberg. “Bonds will continue to be a key part of portfolios, but the potential for both positive expected return and negative correlation with equities may be tested at times.”

Ex-Third Point Partner’s Bond Trades Focus of SEC Probe (BBG)
U.S. regulators are investigating whether a top trader who left Dan Loeb’s Third Point hedge fund earlier this year contributed to the mispricing of hard-to-value mortgage bonds, two people familiar with the matter said. The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing whether former Third Point partner Keri Findley caused the thinly traded bonds to be undervalued, said the people.

This Guy Documents Nearly A Year Of Quality Problems With His Tesla Model S (Jalopnik)
“If the car is built poorly enough that simple things are routinely failing, than is it such a stretch to worry about what the long term viability is for the major mechanical components?”

He Said He Wanted a 'Lawyer[,] Dog'; The Court Ruled That Was Too Vague (Reason)
"If y'all, this is how I feel, if y'all think I did it, I know that I didn't do it so why don't you just give me a lawyer dog cause this is not what's up." That was Warren Demesme talking to the police after he voluntarily agreed to be interviewed over accusations he sexually assaulted a minor. In an opinion concurring with the Louisiana Supreme Court, Justice Scott Chricton insists that Demesme only "ambiguously referenced a lawyer."

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Opening Bell: 12.07.12

SEC Warns Netflix CEO Over Facebook Post (WSJ) Mr. Hastings boasted on his Facebook page in July that Netflix exceeded 1 billion hours of video streaming in a month for the first time. The post may have violated rules of fair disclosure, the SEC said. The SEC said it may also issue a cease-and-desist proceeding against Netflix and Mr. Hastings. Mr. Hastings responded in another Facebook post Thursday. He said further disclosure at the time wasn't necessary because he has more than 200,000 subscribers to his Facebook page, which makes it a "very public" forum. Netflix had also disclosed on its blog in June that it was nearing the 1 billion streaming hours milestone, he said. Mr. Hastings, who is also on the board of Facebook, added that, at any rate, such information isn't a "material" event to investors. Germany's Central Bank Cuts Forecasts (WSJ) "The cyclical outlook for the German economy has dimmed [and] there are even indications that economic activity may fall in the final quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013," the Bundesbank said in its monthly report. In its semiannual economic projections, the central bank slashed its forecast for German growth next year to 0.4% from its previous estimate of 1.6% in June. It also lowered its forecast for 2012 growth to 0.7% from 1.0%. Moody's: It's Deal Or Die (NYP) The American economy will fall into “severe recession by the spring” unless Congress lessens the tax increases and spending cuts that are set to begin in January, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “We’ve got to nail this down; uncertainty is killing us,” Zandi told lawmakers yesterday at a Joint Economic Committee hearing in Washington...If Congress were to “kick the can down the road” by extending the current tax-and-spend policies, Zandi predicted the US would lose its Aaa rating because “it would signal that the political will is lacking to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path.” Fiscal Cliff? France Has ‘Fiscal Mountain’: PPR CEO (CNBC) The head of one of France's biggest companies has warned that France's problems dwarf those of the U.S. in an interview with CNBC. Francois-Henri Pinault, chief executive of luxury goods company PPR, said: "When we talk about the fiscal cliff in France it's a mountain, it's much higher than a cliff. And when it comes to France the only solution that has been put on the table is tax raises, nothing about cutting expenses. So it's a completely different situation." Greece sticks to buyback plan, says will shield banks (Reuters) Greece says it is sticking to plans to close its offer to buy back its own bonds from investors on Friday in a deal that should meet a debt writedown target set by its international lenders. The government said it would shield the country's banks from any lawsuits over losses booked if they take part in the buyback. The buyback, part of a broader debt relief package worth 40 billion euros ($52 billion) agreed by Greece's euro zone and International Monetary Fund lenders last month, is central to efforts to bring its debt to manageable levels. Judge: Ganek, Steinberg conspirators (NYP) Manhattan federal judge Richard Sullivan yesterday ruled that SAC Capital money manager Michael Steinberg and Level Global co-founder David Ganek can be named co-conspirators in the current insider trading case unfolding downtown. Neither Steinberg nor Ganek has been charged in the case, but the ruling lets prosecutors submit their e-mails and instant messages as evidence in their case against Todd Newman, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback, and Anthony Chiasson, Ganek’s former Level Global partner. The feds have accused Chiasson and Newman of improperly profiting off insider tips on Dell and Nvidia. Chiasson lawyer Greg Morvillo objected, saying that Chiasson’s former analyst Sam Adondakis, who pleaded guilty, testified that he never told Ganek he had an inside source at Dell. Judge Sullivan said the evidence is “certainly circumstantial” but sufficient enough for the government’s request to be granted. Sullivan cited the “precise information” Ganek had received leading up to Dell’s earnings as well as the “large trading positions” he authorized on the computer maker. The judge relied on three e-mail communications to implicate Steinberg, one of which he said made “clear references to keeping things on the down-low and being extra sensitive.” Burglary suspect calls 911 after Springtown homeowner holds him at gunpoint (DN) In a strange flip of events, a burglary suspect called 911 early Tuesday to report that he was being held at gunpoint by a Springtown homeowner and his son. The homeowner called 911, too, but by then he was in control, holding him at gunpoint and demanding to know what he was doing in his home. “Just unlucky, I guess,” the man responded, according to a release from the Parker County Sheriff’s Department. The incident happened around 12:30 a.m. when the homeowner and his wife woke up to find an intruder in the bedroom of their home in the 100 block of Lelon Lane. The suspect, identified as 41-year-old Christopher Lance Moore of Bedford, left the home and sat in his GMC pickup, parked in the family’s driveway. The homeowner followed him with a pistol, took the suspect’s keys and blocked his getaway with his own vehicle, while his stepson trained a shotgun on Moore, Fox 4 News reports. “If he gets out of the truck, shoot him in the legs,” James Gerow told his son. “You ain’t gotta kill him; just shoot him in the legs. … If he’d got out, I’d have expected him to shoot him.” When deputies arrived, both men were on the phone with 911. Deputies asked Moore why he had broken into the home, to which he merely said he had “bad intentions.” Morgan Stanley Alters Broker Pay Plan as Revenue Bonus Takes Hit (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley, the brokerage with the biggest corps of financial advisers, changed its wealth- management compensation plan to encourage brokers to increase revenue and allow them to buy discounted stock. The 2013 program pays a bonus of 2 to 5 percentage points of revenue for advisers who bring in new assets and are in the top 40 percent in revenue growth, according to terms outlined in a summary obtained yesterday by Bloomberg News. That comes at the expense of a 2 percentage-point reduction in the revenue bonus paid to all brokers who generate at least $750,000. JPM Bonus Bummer (Bloomberg) JPMorgan Chase’s bonus pool for the corporate and investment bank may shrink as much as 2 percent this year as the firm completes performance reviews, three executives with direct knowledge of the process said. Fed Exit Plan May Be Redrawn as Assets Near $3 Trillion (Bloomberg) A decision by the Federal Reserve to expand its bond buying next week is likely to prompt policy makers to rewrite their 18-month old blueprint for an exit from record monetary stimulus. Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years. An accelerated buildup of assets would also mean a faster pace of sales when the time comes to exit -- increasing the risk that a jump in interest rates would crush the economic recovery. A decision by the Federal Reserve to expand its bond buying next week is likely to prompt policy makers to rewrite their 18-month old blueprint for an exit from record monetary stimulus. Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years. An accelerated buildup of assets would also mean a faster pace of sales when the time comes to exit -- increasing the risk that a jump in interest rates would crush the economic recovery. Danger Lurks Inside The Bond Boom (WSJ) Amid the rush of bond deals, which already have topped $1 trillion in value, these managers—from BlackRock to Federated Investment Management Co.—are pointing to unusual wrinkles suggesting that now could be one of the most dangerous times in decades to lend to investment-grade companies. Interest rates are so low and bond prices so high, they warn, that there is little room left for gains. Some worry that even a small increase in interest rates—a traditional enemy of bond returns—could eat away at bond prices. College Student Poisons Roommate's Iced Tea With Bleach Following Argument (DM) A college student faces 15 years in jail after she allegedly sprayed bleach into her roommate's iced tea. Kayla Ashlyn Bonkowski, 19, was charged with felony poisoning and appeared in court on Wednesday. She reportedly told police that she had put chemicals in the drink following an argument about cleaning the dishes with her 20-year-old roommate Emily Joseph. The poisoning occurred on November 7 at the students' apartment in Union Township, located near the Mount Pleasant school of Central Michigan University, authorities said. Miss Joseph was taken to hospital for treatment but later released. After she filed a complaint, Bonkowski was arrested. The 19-year-old 'verbally admitted' to police that she put bleach in the drink because 'Joseph is mean', according to ABC. She was arraigned on Wednesday at 2pm before posting $2,000 bond. She entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of poisoning a food, drink, medicine or water supply. The college student faces up to 15 years in prison. Reached by e-mail, Bonkowski said on Wednesday morning that she needed to consult with a lawyer before commenting.

Opening Bell: 05.15.12

In Facebook IPO, Frenzy, Skepticism (WSJ) Michael Belanger, a lawyer from Oklahoma City, invests his personal money in the stock market. But he will be skipping Facebook's IPO because he thinks its valuation is totally "out of whack." Scott Schermerhorn, chief investment officer of investment-management firm Granite Investment Advisors, says the hype around Facebook's IPO is going to keep his firm away. "It's a cult stock," he says. Little of that skepticism is weighing on three investors, tracked by The Wall Street Journal since Facebook announced in February that it would go public. Jim Supple was driving with his daughter Jade last autumn, when she turned to him and said, "Daddy, can I buy some of the Facebook company?" Mr. Supple, 47, had been teaching Jade about investing in the stock market for years. He started putting money for her in stocks like eBay and Disney when she was a baby. But the request still took him aback. "How do you know about buying Facebook?" he asked. "I saw in the news that they were going to be selling parts of the company," she responded. "Can we buy some?" Since then, Mr. Supple has been trying to find a way to take $25,000 he has saved for her college fund and purchase Facebook stock. "She doesn't need this money for another eight years," says Mr. Supple. "If it goes the Google route, I'll be in good shape." JPMorgan Said To Weigh Bonus Clawbacks After Loss (Bloomberg) The lender can cancel stock awards or demand they be repaid if an employee “engages in conduct that causes material financial or reputational harm,” JPMorgan said in its annual proxy statement. The company will claw back pay if it’s appropriate, said one of the executives, who asked not to be identified because no decisions have been made. The incident, which led to Drew’s retirement yesterday, may test JPMorgan’s claw-back policy amid mounting investor criticism over Wall Street pay practices and as regulators investigate the trades. JPMorgan Moves To Protect Dimon (WSJ) The board backs Mr. Dimon and the way he quickly admitted and sought to fix the bank's mistakes, according to this person. "We made errors, and we are going to take care of it," Mr. Dimon told fellow directors during a conference call last week, the person said. "This was bad thinking. This was stupid." Euro Chiefs May Offer Leniency to Greece (Bloomberg) Calling talk of a Greek pullout from the euro “nonsense” and “propaganda,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said only a “fully functioning” Greek government would be entitled to tinker with the conditions attached to 240 billion euros ($308 billion) of rescue aid. Man Spends $60,000 In Custody Battle Over Dog Knuckles (CBS) Dershowitz, 34, said he considers Knuckles to be his son, and that although he’s gone through his life savings, he said it’s worth it. In papers filed earlier this year in Manhattan state Supreme Court, Dershowitz said ex-girlfriend Sarah Brega “kidnapped” Knuckles after they broke up. Brega said Dershowitz gave her the puggle pup — half pug, half beagle. Dershowitz started the website Rescue Knux to raise money for the custody fight. For $250, contributors can play fetch with Knuckles. For $10,000, Legends of Graffiti will do a giant, personalized mural. Dershowitz made an emotional video plea and posted the following on his site: I know it might sound funny and I understand that. If it wasn’t so painful, I would be laughing too (I mean, c’mon – dognapp – really?) but this is very serious to me and I miss him a lot. Enough that I have gone into debt to retrieve him and enough that I am on here asking for your help. I need the money to keep fighting the court battle. She comes from a wealthy family that is backing her. I don’t. She keeps filing crazy, frivolous motions just knowing that I can’t afford to respond even after the judge has ruled in my favor. The courts gave me custody already but, sadly, the system is too complex and expensive to make anything that simple and easy. I need help bringing my boy home…where he belongs…for good.” Dick Bove: No Reason to Break Up Big Banks (CNBC) JPMorgan’s much ballyhooed $2 billion loss is no reason to ramp up regulations, noted bank analyst Dick Bove said Monday. “I don’t think there’s any reason to break up the big banks,” he told CNBC. “Particularly if a bank can earn $18 billion a year and $22 billion the next year, why in heaven’s name would you say it can’t be run?” Sanders Sees Conflict With Dimon on New York Fed Board (Bloomberg) Senator Bernard Sanders said he sees a conflict with JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon serving on the board of directors at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, JPMorgan’s regulator. “It is an obvious conflict of interest,” Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said today in an e-mail response to a question from Bloomberg News. “This is a clear example of the fox guarding the henhouse.” Chesapeake Loan Jars Bond Investors (WSJ) "This loan was priced very attractively" for lenders, said Sabur Moini, manager of a $2.5 billion high-yield-bond portfolio at Payden & Rygel, adding that turmoil in Chesapeake's bonds was largely "self-inflicted." Investor confidence was shaken by the loan, he said, but it has also been dented by other factors, including controversy over CEO Aubrey McClendon's pledging his stakes in company wells as collateral to secure loans with companies that do business with Chesapeake. Rajat Gupta Opposes U.S. Request to Limit Defense at Trial (Bloomberg) Prosecutors had sought to bar Gupta from speculating before the jury about the government’s motives in bringing the case. They also said evidence of Gupta’s past charitable contributions and the purported damage the case has had on his reputation aren’t relevant. “The government attempts to hamstring the defense,” Gupta’s lawyers said in a court filing today. “Mr. Gupta’s charitable activities are a large component of his background and a critical element of who he is as a person.” Cops bust man smuggling cocaine at JFK (NYP) A drug smuggler packed his stash of cocaine inside sticks of deodorant, ink markers and hundreds of buttons — only to be busted by alert customs officers at JFK Airport who noticed a strong odor coming from his suitcase, authorities said today...The items with cocaine hidden inside included 16 markers, 17 sticks of Dove and Odorex deodorant, 24 bottles of nail polish, and about 684 buttons.

Opening Bell: 03.01.13

Congress Leaders To Meet With Obama As Budget Cuts Begin (Bloomberg) Democrats and Republicans are in a standoff over how to replace the cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over nine years, $85 billion of which would occur in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year. Republicans reject Democrats’ call for higher taxes on top earners to replace part of the spending reductions. “Middle-class families can’t keep paying the price for dysfunction in Washington,” Obama said in a statement yesterday. The president has until 11:59 p.m. to issue the order officially putting the cuts into effect. “How much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government?” Boehner said at a news conference in Washington yesterday. “I’m for no more.” The White House meeting follows the Senate’s rejection yesterday of a pair of partisan proposals to replace the spending reductions. No additional congressional action is planned before the start of the cuts, to be split between defense and non-defense spending. Fiscal Pain to Be Parceled Out Unevenly (WSJ) Economies in and around the nation's capital are likely to feel the most pain. Federal spending accounts for about a fifth of the economic output of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to the Pew Center on the States. Other areas likely to be hit hard are Hawaii and Alaska, which have a heavy military presence, and states such as New Mexico, Kentucky and Alabama, which have major defense operations or substantial military contracting. Struggling Groupon Ousts Its Quirky CEO (WSJ) Mr. Mason didn't return calls for comment. In a memo to employees that was by turns tongue-in-cheek and rueful, he said, "After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding—I was fired today." 'Girls' Gone Under (NYP) “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis has put his video empire into bankruptcy in a bid to wiggle out of some $16 million in debt — most of it owed to casino magnate Steve Wynn. Wynn’s camp claims Francis owes closer to $30 million, including $2 million for unpaid gambling debts and $7.5 million in defamation damages. Wynn first hauled Francis to court to get him to pay the $2 million debt he racked up during a 2007 gambling binge. He sued again for defamation after Francis blabbed to gossip site TMZ that Wynn threatened to kill him and bury him in the desert. Wynn won two defamation awards for $7.5 million and $20 million, although the latter wasn’t listed in the Chapter 11 filing. Michael Weaver, a spokesman for Wynn Las Vegas, said the judgments are against Francis “personally” and not the company. “Consequently, these recent bankruptcy filings by the GGW companies will not slow our efforts to collect on our judgments against Mr. Francis,” he said. New York Investigating Bank of America for Mortgages (Reuters) Bank of America said in a securities filing on Thursday that the New York State Attorney General was investigating the bank over its purchase, securitization and underwriting of home loans. SEC Scrutinizing Chesapeake Energy (WSJ) The SEC notified Chesapeake in December that it was stepping up an informal inquiry into Aubrey McClendon's ability to invest in wells that the company drills, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing. The agency has issued subpoenas for information and testimony to Chesapeake, the country's second-largest natural-gas producer. Mornings Not For Erin Burnett, Demanding Sizable Buyout (NYP) Erin Burnett made her morning-show debut yesterday on CNN with Chris Cuomo for Pope Benedict XVI’s last day on the job. But it doesn’t mean she’s going to end up there permanently, sources tell The Post’s Michael Shain. It seems Burnett is digging in her high heels and refusing the new morning assignment. She has a clause in her contract that requires CNN to air her show in prime time. If new boss Jeff Zucker wants her to get up at 4 a.m., Erin is demanding a sizable chunk of cash — more than her $2.5 million salary — to buy her out of the prime-time clause. Insiders say Zucker believes she should be grateful she’s being offered a marquee job and he has started to look elsewhere for an anchor to partner with Cuomo. Burnett is telling her staff she doesn’t want to go to the morning. “What she means is she doesn’t want to go at the old price,” sniffed a source. Druckenmiller Sees Storm Worse Than ’08 as Retirees Steal (Bloomberg) Druckenmiller, 59, said the mushrooming costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, with unfunded liabilities as high as $211 trillion, will bankrupt the nation’s youth and pose a much greater danger than the country’s $16 trillion of debt currently being debated in Congress. “While everybody is focusing on the here and now, there’s a much, much bigger storm that’s about to hit,” Druckenmiller said in an hour-long interview with Stephanie Ruhle on Bloomberg Television’s Market Makers. “I am not against seniors. What I am against is current seniors stealing from future seniors.” Druckenmiller said unsustainable spending will eventually result in a crisis worse than the financial meltdown of 2008, when $29 trillion was erased from global equity markets. What’s particularly troubling, he said, is that government expenditures related to programs for the elderly rocketed in the past two decades, even before the first baby boomers, those born in 1946, started turning 65. Lloyds CEO Links Bonus To Stake Sale (WSJ) Chief Executive António Horta-Osório said he is "very confident" U.K. taxpayers will get their money back, referring to the stake of about 40% the government took in the bank following a series of bailouts at the height of the crisis. He requested that his £1.49 million ($2.26 million) bonus only be paid if the government sells at least a third of its holdings in Lloyds at a share price above 61 pence. The average buy-in price for the U.K. government was 63.1 pence, according to U.K. Financial Investments, a body that manages the government's stake in Lloyds. Unemployment Worsens In Euro Zone (WSJ) Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency, said 11.9% of the euro zone's workforce was unemployed in January, the highest percentage for the 17 countries that make up the currency bloc since records began in 1995. The figure is higher than the jobless rate of 11.8% in December. Wilbur Ross: Italy Has Choice Of 'Two Clowns' (CNBC) ...in the wake of the unresolved Italian election, the WL Ross chairman said he's worried the next leader of the economically-troubled nation is a choice of two clowns — former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and comedian Beppe Grillo. "One, an acknowledged clown, and one may be inadvertent clown. And until that gets resolved, there's a great danger that the nice reforms that Mr. Monti put in will just get rolled back." Truck crashes on I-80 in Reno, spilling Heinz ketchup 'everywhere' (RGJ) A tractor trailer carrying thousands of bottles of Heinz ketchup crashed on Interstate 80 near the Robb Drive overpass this afternoon, spilling its red contents onto the freeway and snarling traffic in the process. “I have red everywhere on the highway,” said Sgt. Janay Sherven with the Nevada Highway Patrol. “No bodies, no people, just ketchup.” There were no injuries in the accident, which happened when the driver of the semi-truck likely overcorrected to avoid another car while traveling eastbound, she said. The truck hit the center median and then knocked over a light pole that slashed open the left side of the trailer. As a result, thousands of bottles and cans of ketchup were splattered onto the road like a bad horror movie. ‘“The scene looks pretty bad as far as color goes,” Sherven said.

Opening Bell: 06.21.13

U.S. Weighs Doubling Leverage Standard for Biggest Banks (Bloomberg) The standard would increase the amount of capital the lenders must hold to 6 percent of total assets, regardless of their risk, according to four people with knowledge of the talks. That’s twice the level set by global banking supervisors. ... "The 3 percent was clearly inadequate, nothing really,” said Simon Johnson, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. “Going up to five or six will make the rule be worth something. Having a lot of capital is crucial for banks to be sound. The leverage ratio is a good safety tool because risk-weighting can be gamed by banks so easily.” China steps back from severe cash crunch (FT) China pulled back from the brink of a severe cash crunch on Friday, with money rates falling after reports that the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, had acted to alleviate market stresses. Nevertheless, interbank conditions remained tight and analysts said the PBoC would continue its hard line of recent days to compel financial institutions to pare back their leverage. Sprint Beats Dish’s Latest Bid for Clearwire (DealBook) Sprint Nextel raised its bid for Clearwire to $5 a share on Thursday, hoping to knock out a rival offer from Dish Network. The new offer, which values Clearwire at about $14 billion, is 47 percent higher than Sprint’s last proposal. It is also higher than Dish’s most recent bid of $4.40 a share. Banks Race to Increase Salaries to Beat EU Bonus Caps (IBT) Banks are racing to overhaul their remuneration structures by bumping up fixed salaries ahead of European Union-imposed bonus caps in 2015. According to a prominent employment partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, banks are stuck between having to overhaul remuneration procedures by a certain deadline but without concrete rules, which is likely to result in across-the-board increases in salary. FAA to Relax Rules for Gadgets in Flight (WSJ) The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to relax the ban on using some types of personal-electronic devices at low altitudes, allowing passengers leeway during taxiing and even takeoffs and landings, according to industry officials and draft recommendations prepared by a high-level advisory panel to the agency. For fliers, the new rules would likely mean an end to familiar admonitions to turn off and stow all electronic devices. Cellphone calls are expected to remain off limits, however. War of words erupts after wedding guests gift bride 'cheap and embarrassing' food hamper containing marshmallow fluff and croutons Kathy Mason from Hamilton, Ontario, and her boyfriend, who wished to remain anonymous, decided to create a food hamper for their friends' same-sex marriage and packed it with a mix of 'fun' treats including pasta, olive oil, croutons, biscuits, Marshmallow Fluff and Sour Patch Kids. They attached a carefully worded card to the parcel which read: 'Enjoy . . . Life is delicious.' However, the European newlyweds were less than impressed with the gesture and contacted the couple the next day via text message to ask if they had the receipt so they could get the money back instead. ... 'You ate steak, chicken, booze, and a beautiful venue . . . If anything you should be embarrassed for being so cheap and embarrassing,' the brides said in one message. Creeping mistrust stops euro zone banks lending to peers across bloc (Reuters) In a trend that could reignite fears about the euro and its banks, European Central Bank data shows the share of interbank funding that crosses borders within the euro zone dropped by a third, to just 22.5 percent in April from 34.5 percent at the beginning of 2008. Banks are now lending to other banks across euro zone borders at only about the same rate as when the single currency was first launched, 15 years ago. Greek markets rattled by political disarray (FT) The benchmark 10-year bond yield of Greece rose 75 basis points to 11.6 per cent by late morning in London, while the Athens stock exchange index fell 2.9 per cent to its lowest level since early April. ... Investor sentiment towards Greece is not helped by uncertainty over how to plug a funding gap in the country’s bailout programme. The FT reported on Thursday that the International Monetary Fund might suspend aid to Greece next month unless the eurozone stepped in. Losses loom for investors enmeshed in U.S. mortgage chaos (Reuters) A review of loan documents, property records and the monthly reports made available to investors show that mortgage servicers are reporting individual houses are still in foreclosure long after they have been sold to new buyers or the underlying mortgages have been paid off. ... In one case, Reuters found that Bank of America Corp had been collecting a monthlyservicing fee of $50.73 from investors on a loan that had been paid off nearly two years ago, investor reports show. Bank of America filed a document at a local county office on July 22, 2011 showing that the $162,400 loan on a cream-colored duplex in Greenacres, Florida, owned by a drywall hanger named Roman Pino, had been satisfied and "cancelled." But investors in Pino's loan and more than 6,700 other similar mortgages that are bundled together in a subprime mortgage bond still have not been informed that the loan no longer exists, according to the last investor report in May. Good and Evil Battle Volatility on Summer Solstice (CNBC) "Summer Solstice is upon us: the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere where some religions in the western world believe the sun defeats the forces of evil." Also it's triple witching. Oracle to Leave Nasdaq for the Big Board (DealBook) Oracle, one of the most prominent technology companies listed on the Nasdaq, is defecting to a rival exchange. The company, which has been traded on the Nasdaq since 1986, has applied to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, it said in a filing on Thursday. The transfer, among the largest ever between the exchanges, represents a significant gain for the Big Board, which has been trying to bolster its technology credentials. FINRA beefs up policing of arbitrators (Reuters) The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's policy change comes after Reuters asked questions about the background of Demetrio Timban, a Medford, New Jersey-based arbitrator who has become a central figure in a lawsuit between Goldman Sachs Group Inc and a wealthy investor. Timban was indicted by the state of New Jersey for practicing law without a license, although charges were later dropped under a state program to deal with non-violent offences. He was also reprimanded by a Michigan regulator for the New Jersey incident and passing $18,000 in bad checks. Timban said in an interview he had closed his New Jersey office and the check-writing incident was "accidental," as a family member was supposed to wire funds to cover the check. But FINRA said it did not learn of the New Jersey indictment for five months and that Timban failed to tell it about the Michigan problems altogether, while he arbitrated the Goldman case. Brooklyn framer accuses former boss of firing him for being too fat (NYP) The owner of a picture-framing shop in Brooklyn fired a worker because he was too fat to fit in the aisles, a lawsuit claims. Seth Bogadanove, 52, of Bath Beach, is suing Frame It In Brooklyn, in Sunset Park, and owner Jerry Greenberg, claiming he was canned after gaining weight because of medication. “Oh, my God! What happened to you? You got so fat!” the suit says Greenberg told Bogadanove after he returned from a leave. ... But Greenberg told The Post he never hired Bogadanove back, only gave him an opportunity to work from home. He called Bogadonove’s story “ridiculous.” “He was sweating, and he couldn’t make it up stairs,” Greenberg recalled. “But that would never come out of my mouth in my wildest dreams.” Video shows woman tossing perceived rival off cliff (CBS) Surveillance video caught a brutal fight between a woman and her perceived romantic rival in Arequipa, Peru, but it's pretty one-sided. A woman caught her husband walking with a younger woman while they were out on a stroll by a cliff back in January. She is seen grabbing the younger woman by the hair and dragging her off a cliff, where she reportedly plunged about 20 feet. She is okay after the fall - she only sustained some cuts and bruises, was treated at a hospital and released.

Opening Bell: 01.04.13

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

Opening Bell: 01.24.13

Witness Adds Thread To SAC Probe (WSJ) A government informant has implicated a prominent former trader at SAC Capital Advisors, telling federal investigators the two swapped confidential stock tips for years, according to people briefed on the matter. The connection between ex-SAC portfolio manager Dipak Patel and the undercover mole, a California-based former portfolio manager at an investment fund, hasn't previously been disclosed. Mr. Patel and his lawyer didn't respond to requests for comment...Mr. Patel, who hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, was a technology-stock manager who worked under Mr. Cohen for years before leaving in 2010. Obama To Name White As SEC Chief (WSJ) President Barack Obama on Thursday will name Mary Jo White, a former star prosecutor who pursued terrorists and mobsters in New York, to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, a White House official said. Barclays CEO Says Bank Was Too Aggressive, Too Self-Serving (CNBC) The bank which paid a fine of 290 million pounds for manipulating Libor and was caught up in the payment protection insurance scandal, has been trying to turn a new leaf. Jenkins, who took over as CEO in August, said the company was addressing its past mistakes. "We were too aggressive, we were too short-term focused and too self-serving," Jenkins told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "The industry, and Barclays, got it wrong on occasions," he added. Merkel Says Europe Must Persist With Reforms (CNBC) German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged European nations to continue the economic reforms they have begun and argued that the debt crisis offered an opportunity for the bloc to become more competitive. "The political experience is that often you need pressure for political structural reforms," she told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "If Europe is in a difficult situation today we need to implement structural reforms now so that we may live better tomorrow," she said. Knight Capital's Profit Slides 84% (WSJ) Profit in the quarter to Dec. 31 fell to $6.5 million from $40.2 million a year earlier, with per-share earnings sliding to a penny from 43 cents, below the three-cent consensus among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Revenue fell 16% to $287.7 million. Jobless Claims Fall To 5-Year Low (WSJ) Initial jobless claims, a measure of layoffs, fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 330,000 in the week ended Jan. 19, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected 360,000 new applications for jobless benefits last week. Two men charged with robbery, assault and battery after stealing $400 from Girl Scouts selling cookies (NYDN) Two men are being held on charges they stole nearly $400 from a group of Girl Scouts selling cookies at a store in Massachussetts. An adult supervising the Scouts suffered a broken nose and arm injuries trying to stop the men. Authorities say 22-year-old Nicholas Taverna of Greenfield and 25-year-old Cassidy Michalski of Deerfield were held on $5,000 bail each at their arraignment Tuesday on charges of unarmed robbery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and shoplifting. Police say the suspects stole two cellphones from the Walmart in Northampton on Saturday and tried to trade them for drugs in Holyoke. When that failed, they returned to Northampton where they had seen the 11- and 12-year-old Scouts earlier, and stole their cash box. US Lawmaker Set to Unveil Financial Revamp (Reuters) The proposal, expected as early as this week, will come from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, whose panel has been exploring a broad tax code overhaul for more than a year. Camp wants to slash the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent and simplify the code.Critics of the current corporate tax system note that the United States has one of the steepest corporate tax rates in the world. Commerzbank to Cut 6,000 Jobs (WSJ) The cuts, representing up to 12% of the bank's 49,215 full-time staff, will affect all group levels and units, in Germany and abroad, although online bank Comdirect AG and Polish unit BRE Bank will be excluded, according to an internal memo to staff. Japan Posts Record Trade Deficit (WSJ) Japan's trade deficit nearly tripled to a record ¥6.927 trillion ($78.3 billion) last year and few expect a drastic improvement anytime soon, leaving Tokyo no choice but to carry on with efforts to boost the economy. Citigroup’s Corbat Says Environment to Stay ‘Challenging’ (Bloomberg) “People recognize the times we are in, these are challenging times,” Corbat, 52, said in an interview with with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker at the World Economic Forum in Davos today. “Things will remain challenging going forward for a period of time. Our people recognize that.” Corbat replaced the ousted Vikram Pandit as CEO at the third-biggest U.S. bank in October. He has since announced plans to fire about 11,000 employees and pull back from certain markets as he seeks to cut Citigroup’s costs and boost rewards for shareholders. Profit at the lender’s ongoing businesses slid 8 percent last year while costs rose. Citigroup cut investment bankers’ bonuses by 10 percent to 20 percent globally after a revenue slump, people with knowledge of the matter said last week. Corbat said the firm can still be “absolutely competitive,” on banker pay. “I think morale is good,” he said, without saying whether the company plans to cut more jobs. “Our employees are very confident around the strategy if you think about what’s going on in the world today.” N.J. men sue Subway, claim they've been shorted on footlong sandwiches (AP) The suit, filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Mount Holly, may be the first legal filing aimed at the sandwich shops after an embarrassment went viral last week when someone posted a photo of a footlong and a ruler on the company's Facebook page to show that the sandwich was not as long as advertised. At the time, the company issued a statement saying that the sandwich length can vary a bit when franchises do not bake to the exact corporate standards. Stephen DeNittis, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the New Jersey suit, said he's seeking class-action status and is also preparing to file a similar suit in Pennsylvania state court in Philadelphia. He said he's had sandwiches from 17 shops measured — and every one came up short. "The case is about holding companies to deliver what they've promised," he said.

Opening Bell: 12.21.12

Critics Say UBS Let Off Too Easy (WSJ) Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said Wednesday after the $1.5 billion fine against UBS was announced. Prosecutors have to at least "evaluate whether or not innocent people might lose jobs" and other types of potential collateral damage. Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), a Senate Finance Committee member, said he is unsatisfied that prosecutors didn't go higher up the corporate ladder at UBS than its Japanese subsidiary..."The reluctance of U.S. prosecutors to file criminal charges over big-time bank fraud is frustrating and hard to understand," Mr. Grassley said. The $1.5 billion fine is a "spit in the ocean compared to the money lost by borrowers at every level, including taxpayers." Regulatory 'Whale' Hunt Advances (WSJ) The first regulatory ripples from the "London Whale" trading fiasco are about to hit J.P. Morgan Chase. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, led by Comptroller Thomas Curry, is preparing to take a formal action demanding that J.P. Morgan remedy the lapses in risk controls that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up losses of more than $6 billion this year, according to people familiar with the company's discussions with regulators. Khuzami To Leave SEC Enforcement Post (WSJ) Robert Khuzami, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement unit, plans to leave the agency as soon as next month, a person familiar with the expected move said Thursday. Boehner Drops ‘Plan B’ as Budget Effort Turns to Disarray (Bloomberg) House Speaker John Boehner scrapped a plan to allow higher tax rates on annual income above $1 million, yielding to anti-tax resistance within his own party and throwing already-stalled budget talks deeper into turmoil. He will hold a news conference today at 10 a.m. Washington time to discuss the next steps in the budget dispute, a Republican leadership aide said. House members and senators won’t vote on the end-of-year budget issues until after Christmas, giving them less than a week to reach agreement to avert tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. The partisan divide hardened yesterday, making the path to a deal more uncertain. BlackRock Sees Distortions in Country Ratings Seeking S&P Change (Bloomberg) Credit rating companies are distorting capital markets by assigning the same debt ranking to countries from Italy to Thailand and Kazakhstan, according to BlackRock, the world’s biggest money manager. While 23 countries share the BBB+ to BBB- levels assessed by Standard & Poor’s, the lowest investment grades, up from 15 in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis, their debt to gross domestic product ratios range from 12 percent for Kazakhstan to 44 percent for Thailand and 126 percent for Italy, International Monetary Fund estimates show. The cost of insuring against a default by Italy, ranked BBB+, over the next five years is almost triple that for Thailand, which has the same rating. For BlackRock, which oversees $3.7 trillion in assets, the measures are so untrustworthy that the firm is setting up its own system to gauge the risk of investing in government bonds. This year, the market moved in the opposite direction suggested by changes to levels and outlooks 53 percent of the time, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “The rating agencies were very, very slow to the game,” Benjamin Brodsky, a managing director at BlackRock International Ltd., said in a Nov. 23 interview from London. “They all came after the fact. For us, this is not good enough.” If You Bought Greek Bonds in January You Earned 80% (Bloomberg) Greek government bonds returned 80 percent this year, compared with 3.7 percent for German bunds and 6.1 percent for Spanish securities, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. It’s the first year since 2009 that investors made money on Greek securities, with 2012 providing the biggest advance since Merrill began compiling the data in 1998, according to figures that don’t reflect this month’s debt buyback by the government. Texas lawmaker: ‘Ping-pongs’ deadlier than guns (The Ticket) Incoming Texas State Rep. Kyle Kacal says guns don’t kill people—ping-pong kills people. "I've heard of people being killed playing ping-pong—ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns," he says. "Flat-screen TVs are injuring more kids today than anything." The lifetime rancher, who will take his seat in 2013 as a freshman, says that new gun restrictions are unnecessary. Kacal, who reportedly operates a hunting business, notably came out against a bill instructing Texans how to secure their assault weapons. "People know what they need to do to be safe. We don't need to legislate that—it's common sense," he said. "Once everyone's gun is locked up, then the bad guys know everyone's gun is locked up." Flare-up in war of words between Ackman, Herbalife (NYP) “This is the highest conviction I’ve ever had about any investment I’ve ever made,” Ackman said yesterday in a series of interviews. The investor told CNBC that he expects the Federal Trade Commission will take a “hard look” at the company. The heavyweight battle picked up steam over the last two days and has become, in the typically slow days leading up to Christmas, one of the most-watched events on Wall Street. As the financial world watched, Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson returned fire — calling Ackman’s statements “bogus” and asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe the motives of Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital hedge fund. A spokeswoman said if Johnson were allowed the chance to face-off against the investor at the Downtown conference, the CEO “would have been able to tear Mr. Ackman’s premises and interpretation of our business model apart.” Citigroup Said to Give CCA Managers 75% Stake in Funds for Free (Bloomberg) Among Vikram Pandit’s last jobs as Citigroup’s chief executive officer was to decide the fate of the bank’s hedge-fund unit, which employs some of his oldest colleagues. He agreed to give them most of it for free. While Citigroup is keeping a 25 percent stake, managers at the Citi Capital Advisors unit will pay nothing for the remaining 75 percent of that business as it becomes a new firm managing as much as $2.5 billion of the bank’s money, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The lender will pay the executives fees while gradually pulling out assets to comply with impending U.S. rules, said the people, who requested anonymity because the terms aren’t public. The deal was Citigroup’s response to the Volcker rule. Peter Madoff Is Sentenced to 10 Years for His Role in Fraud (Dealbook) A lawyer by training, Peter Madoff is the second figure in the scandal to be sentenced. His older brother, Bernard, pleaded guilty in March 2009 and is serving a prison term of 150 years. UK Boom in Pound Shops: An Austerity-Proof Business Model? (CNBC) Pound shops in the U.K. are reporting massive increases in profits across the board showing that the formula "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" has particular resonance in Britain's current age of austerity. Names like "Poundstretcher," "Poundland" and "99p Stores" in the U.K. have become high street stalwarts as other brands go bust. The chains, immediately recognizable on price point, are opening new stores and reporting record results reflecting the increasing public demand for cheaper goods. U.K. based "Poundland" is one such chain reporting steep sales growth as its range of 3,000 items -- from umbrellas and pregnancy tests (it sells 14,000 a week) to bird feeders and bags of crisps all priced at one pound – resonates with cash-strapped Britons. In the year to April 2012, the Warburg Pincus owned company said its turnover increased 22 percent to 780 million pounds ($1.25 billion) and profits increased by 50 percent to 18.3 million pounds from last year's figure of 12.2 million. Former Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton admits to life as a $600-an-hour hooker (NYP) Steamy, lingerie-clad images of the champion runner helped tout her services on the Web site of a Vegas escort agency called Haley Heston’s Private Collection, where Favor Hamilton operated under the name “Kelly Lundy,” according to The Smoking Gun. Customers could hire her lithe Olympic-class runner’s body for $600 an hour, $1,000 for two hours and $6,000 for 24 hours. The site described her build as “athletic,” her bosom as “perky,” and her belly button as “pierced.” She was willing to provide horny customers the full “girlfriend experience,” and would also engage in a certain undisclosed sex act for an extra $300. “I enjoy men of all shapes, sizes and colors, and I have an affinity for women (I am bisexual),” “Kelly” wrote on her page on the escort service’s Web site. “I consider dates with couples an experience to cherish.” Her sexual skills reportedly earned her a high rating on The Erotic Review, a Web site frequented by prostitution fans. Favor Hamilton’s lusty secret life might have stayed secret if she had not made the mistake of revealing her true identity to some of her wealthy johns, who went to the media.

Opening Bell: 06.12.12

JPMorgan Knew Of Risks (WSJ) Last year, top CIO executives set a plan to roll back a separate set of large London trades—only to learn later that the plan hadn't been followed correctly. The concerns dating back to 2010 show that J.P. Morgan had an opportunity to avoid the bungled trades, which over time could cost the bank as much as $5 billion...The company's investigation is expected to reveal a series of miscues. They include trading-risk limits that were too broad, a new trading model adopted this January that masked mounting dangers, and the failure of top executives to sufficiently probe the huge positions at the CIO, according to the people familiar with the matter. When Mr. Dimon asked then-CIO head Ina Drew about the trades in early April, for example, she didn't fly to London to visit the trading group, according to people close to the investigation. Achilles Macris, the London-based head of international at the CIO, assured her on a video conference call that everything was under control, these people said. Ms. Drew and Mr. Macris didn't respond to requests for comment. House Of Dimon Marred By CEO Complacency Over Unit's Risk (Bloomberg) “That’s absurd,” said Kristin Lemkau, a spokeswoman for the bank. Winters, Black and Staley never complained about a specific risk in the CIO’s office, she said. If they had, Dimon’s protocol would have been to gather the relevant data, let them talk to Drew and return to him if they weren’t satisfied with her response, a bank executive said. The operating committee, on which they all sat, also could have reviewed the matter if they still had concerns, the person said. It’s also “totally untrue” that Hogan questioned why the CIO didn’t have as effective or robust risk controls as other divisions, Lemkau said. Loophole At MF Global Is Headache For Regulators (WSJ) Most of the senior executives at MF Global Holdings Ltd. weren't registered with commodities regulators, meaning the executives can't be charged with supervision failures related to the firm's collapse. Austrian Minister Says Italy Too May Need Bailout (Reuters) Just so you know. Dingo took baby who vanished in Australian Outback in notorious 1980 case, coroner finds (NYDN) Australia - Settling a notorious 1980 case that split the nation and led to a mistaken conviction, an Australian coroner ruled Tuesday that a dingo took a baby from a campsite in the Outback, just as her mother said from the beginning. The eyes of Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and her ex-husband, Michael Chamberlain, welled with tears as the findings of the fourth inquest into the disappearance of their 9-week-old daughter, Azaria, were announced in court. Lindy Chamberlain had been convicted and was later cleared of murdering Azaria, and has always maintained that a wild dog took her. Many Australians initially did not believe that a dingo was strong enough to take away the baby. Public opinion sway harshly against the couple; some even spat on Chamberlain-Creighton and howled like a dingoes outside her house. No similar dingo attack had been documented at the time, but in recent years the wild dogs have been blamed for three fatal attacks on children. "No longer will Australia be able to say that dingoes are not dangerous and only attack if provoked," Chamberlain-Creighton said before leaving the court. How the SEC Could Pursue a Case Against JPMorgan (Reuters) JPMorgan Chase's failure to timely disclose a major change in how it measured risk could become the centerpiece for an enforcement action by U.S. securities regulators as they probe the bank in connection with its multibillion dollar trading loss. By omitting the change from its earnings release in April, the bank disguised a spike in the riskiness of a particular trading portfolio by cutting in half its value-at-risk number. JPMorgan did not tell investors that the model for its Chief Investment Office had been changed until May 10, the same day it revealed the failed hedging strategy had produced a loss of at least $2 billion. Gupta Labeled As 'Truthful' (WSJ) On Monday, Mr. Gupta's lawyers called a handful of friends and people associated with philanthropic causes to which Mr. Gupta has devoted his time to testify about his integrity, including Ashok Alexander, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's HIV-prevention initiative in India, and Anil Sood, a former World Bank employee and childhood friend..."I have always admired since my childhood days that Rajat is straightforward, direct and truthful and inspires trust," said Mr. Sood, who has known Mr. Gupta since they were in grade school together in India. Hedges' Assets: $5 Trillion (WSJ) The hedge-fund industry may more than double in size during the next five years, to more than $5 trillion in assets, as private fund firms broaden their offerings to compete with traditional money managers, according to a recent Citigroup survey. Apple Stock at $1,000? Analysts Say Within Two Years (CNBC) "I couldn't be more bullish on Apple right now," Brian White, Analyst with Topeka Capital Markets, a broker-dealer, told CNBC Asia's "The Call" on Tuesday. "When I look forward to the fall, we have got an iPhone 5 expected in September, I think we are going to see an iPad mini at the same time in September, we have got an Apple TV that's clearly on its way in the next several months... I couldn't get more excited about Apple." Old Fathers May Produce Offspring With Longer Lives (Bloomberg) FYI: "Children of older fathers, those in their late 30s to early 50s, inherit longer telomeres, caps at the end of the chromosomes that protect them from degeneration, according to a study today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Longer telomeres seem to promote slower aging and may mean a longer lifespan for these children, the study said."