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Opening Bell: 11.30.17

Grandma wants bitcoin; hedge funds are betting on cheese; get ready for the end of the credit rally; even rats don't like to go to midtown, says science; and more.

Bitcoin Mania: Even Grandma Wants In on the Action (WSJ)
Rita Scott’s grandson convinced her in mid-November to get in on the latest investing sensation and buy bitcoin. “I thought it was a big coin,” the 70-year-old said. “I didn’t even know what it was, a piece of coin? Why would I invest in a piece of coin?” With a few hundred dollars of her money invested in it, Ms. Scott quickly caught on and started checking the price several times a day, even while playing poker at a casino in her hometown of Las Vegas. Late Monday, as the price approached $10,000 for the first time, her grandson sold the bitcoin that he and his grandmother held, netting what he said was a gain of around 45% over just a few weeks. SEE ALSO: This Is What Could Pop the Bitcoin Bubble

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Hedge funds eye juicy returns of esoteric trends (FT)
Computer-powered trend-following hedge funds have enjoyed robust inflows in recent years, thanks to their lack of correlation to other popular strategies. But their performance has been mediocre recently, gaining about 2 per cent on average this year. However, a batch of hedge funds that trade less liquid, more exotic markets have clocked up attractive double-digit returns. These vehicles eschew mainstream markets and attempt to ride trends in areas such as Brazilian and Czech interest rate derivatives, natural gas, uranium funds and even cheese and milk contracts.

Morgan Stanley Says 2018 Will Be the End of the Credit Rally (BBG)
“It is not a coincidence that fundamental problems are becoming more apparent in one sector after the next, as the Fed continues to withdraw liquidity,” according to the strategists. “And as is often the case near a top, these risks are mistakenly being rationalized as purely ‘idiosyncratic’ problems.” ALSO: We are in the most dangerous period in the business cycle

Uber lawyer says board, ex-CEO knew of evidence withheld from Waymo case (Reuters)
“On the surface it looks like you covered this up,” Alsup told Uber in court, later adding he had never seen a case like this. “It seems like there are so many bad things that Uber has done in this case. Usually it’s more divided.”

It Started as a Tax Cut. Now It Could Change American Life. (NYT)
Some of this re-engineering is straight out of the traditional Republican playbook. Corporate taxes, along with those on wealthy Americans, would be slashed on the presumption that when people in penthouses get relief, the benefits flow down to basement tenements. Some measures are barely connected to the realm of taxation, such as the lifting of a 1954 ban on political activism by churches and the conferring of a new legal right for fetuses in the House bill — both on the wish list of the evangelical right.

Never mind the 1 percent—Let's talk about the 0.01 percent (Chicago Booth) Between 1995 and 2015, the income share (including capital gains) of the top 1 percent rose from roughly 15 percent to 22 percent, according to Piketty and Saez’s data. The income share of the top 0.1 percent rose from 6 percent to 11 percent, and the income share of the top 0.01 percent rose from 2.5 percent to about 5 percent. In terms of percentage points, the top 1 percent’s rose the most. In terms of the rate of increase, the 0.01 percent’s did.

Tax Reform Rotation (Macro Tourist)
I started with the proposition that much of the tax cut was built into the market, but expressed my worry that some smart excel crunching analysts were claiming the market was underestimating the tremendous impact of the corporate tax cut. If my theory was correct, then we should have seen those companies that would benefit most from the tax cut rally the most over the past couple of months. Yet when we have a look at the stocks that have risen the most, it’s not those stocks.

The DOJ’s case against the AT&T/Time Warner deal makes no sense (FT Alphaville)
The DOJ lawyers say pay-TV has “huge profit margins”, and that AT&T is keen to acquire original content from Time Warner ���to hinder the growth of online distributors that it views as a threat to the traditional pay-TV model”. Tellingly, the DOJ complaint cites no financial information to support its claims. Had they done so, they would have come up with a different narrative: AT&T is probably trying to buy earnings growth to offset the weakness of its core business.

New York City Has Genetically Distinct ‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’ Rats (Atlantic)
When the researchers drilled down even deeper, they found that different neighborhoods have their own distinct rats. “If you gave us a rat, we could tell whether it came from the West Village or the East Village,” says Combs. “They’re actually unique little rat neighbors.” And the boundaries of rat neighborhoods can fit surprisingly well with human ones.

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Opening Bell: 12.22.17

Michael Milken has a sixth sense for donating bad stocks; banks are already changing their 2018 forecasts; Dalio on tax reform: meh; get fucked by bitcoin (literally); and more.

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Opening Bell: 9.26.17

Bitcoin is a bubble, says top crypto fund manager; congressional aides have a nice insider-trading sideline; good managers hold fewer stocks; why Yoda appears in Saudi history textbooks; and more.

By mattbuck [CC BY-SA 2.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 or CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 8.24.17

Credit default swaps are coming back in style; Social Capital wants to end the IPO as we know it; Buddhist bitcoin; and more.

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.

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Opening Bell: 11.13.17

Bitcoin is doing the opposite of going up; Goldman bankers hit the hinterlands; Bill Miller wants you to know he's not senile; angry people smash Keurigs; and more.

By kloniwotski (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 9.11.17

Goldman wants to conquer U.K. retail; China is done tolerating bitcoin; Jamie Dimon's fondness for D.C. grows; don't shoot guns at the hurricane; and more.

Opening Bell: 04.17.13

BofA Misses Estimates as Mortgage Banking Weighs on Results (Bloomberg) Net income advanced to $2.62 billion, or 20 cents a share, from $653 million, or 3 cents, a year earlier, according to a statement today from the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company. The consensus of 25 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had predicted 23 cents a share. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan, 53, has sold more than $60 billion in assets, settled more than $40 billion in mortgage claims and repaired the bank’s balance sheet since taking over in 2010. He’s now focused on trimming $8 billion in annual expenses and adding revenue, which dropped 8.4 percent on an adjusted basis to $23.9 billion. BNY Mellon Has Net Loss of $266 Million on Tax Expense (Bloomberg) BNY Mellon had a net loss of $266 million, or 23 cents a share, compared with a profit of $619 million, or 52 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based bank said today in a statement. Earnings were cut by $854 million, or 73 cents, because it wasn’t allowed to take foreign tax credits. Excluding the item, BNY Mellon earned $588 million, or 50 cents a share. Analysts had expected BNY Mellon to report an adjusted profit of 52 cents a share, the average of 22 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. IMF Renews Call To Ease Austerity (WSJ) Seeking to keep a fragile global recovery on track, the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday called on countries that can afford it—including the U.S. and Britain—to slow the pace of their austerity measures. The fund warned that "overly strong" belt-tightening in the U.S. will slow growth this year. Across-the-board government spending cuts, known as the sequester, were the "wrong way" to shrink the budgetdeficit, it said in its semiannual report on economic growth. Bitcoin Investors Hang On For The Ride (WSJ) Norman Vialle, a 53-year-old car dealer in Kansas, invested in his share of winners and losers during the Internet bubble of the 1990s. Now he is clinging to a stash of Bitcoin, even though the fledgling virtual currency has lost about 70% of its value in the past week. "It's volatile because it's new, but it's still a lot higher than it was a month ago," Mr. Vialle says. In addition to investing in the currency, Mr. Vialle recently began accepting bitcoins for payment at Overland Park Jeep Dodge Ram Chrysler. One of his customers is planning to pay for a $40,000 Jeep with the currency next month. Grantham man explains why he has Margaret Thatcher tattooed on his leg (ITV) The unusual design features Baroness Thatcher's head sitting on an ice cream cone. Louis Maier, aged 32, wanted to have the six-inch work of art on his right calf to honour her. Cyprus Finance Minister Sees Gold Sale Within Next Months (Bloomberg) The Cypriot government plans to sell part of its gold reserves within the next months, a decision that needs to be approved by the country’s central bank, Finance Minister Haris Georgiades said. “The exact details of it will be formulated in due course primarily by the board of the central bank,” Georgiades, 41, told Bloomberg TV’s Ryan Chilcote in an interview in Nicosia. “Obviously it’s a big decision.” Gold's Fall Costs Paulson $1.5 Billion This Year (FT) The estimated losses for Mr. Paulson, who has made and lost more money on gold than almost any other hedge fund manager, reflect a bold all-in bet on the precious metal While many investors hold some gold in case of financial calamity or a return of the rampant inflation of the 1970s, since 2009 Mr. Paulson has allowed clients of Paulson & Co to denominate their holdings in gold, rather than US dollars. Mr. Paulson enthusiastically embraced the option, according to people familiar with the situation, and has about 85 percent of his personal capital in the firm linked to the gold price. Gold's Great Unraveling Had a Few Harbingers (WSJ) The gold-price rout began taking shape in the early morning hours Monday, after a sharp Friday selloff in a market that had risen steadily for a decade left traders girding for a downdraft. Some in London began arriving at work Sunday night ahead of the market's Asia opening to prepare for the onslaught, while others arrived as early as 4 a.m. Monday, even though a paucity of traders at this time limits most trading options until about 8 a.m. Forget Gold, the Gourmet-Cupcake Market Is Crashing (WSJ) The craze hit a high mark in June 2011, when Crumbs Bake Shop, a New York-based chain, debuted on the Nasdaq Stock Market under the ticker symbol CRMB. Its creations—4" tall, with fillings such as vanilla custard, caps of butter cream cheese, and decorative flourishes like a whole cookie—can cost $4.50 each. After trading at more than $13 a share in mid-2011, Crumbs has sunk to $1.70. It dropped 34% last Friday, in the wake of Crumbs saying that sales for the full year would be down by 22% from earlier projections, and the stock slipped further this week. Crumbs in part blamed store closures from Hurricane Sandy, but others say the chain is suffering from a larger problem: gourmet-cupcake burnout. "The novelty has worn off," says Kevin Burke, managing partner of Trinity Capital LLC, a Los Angeles investment banking firm that often works in the restaurant industry. Crumbs now has 67 locations, nearly double the number it had less than two years ago. "These are singularly focused concepts," says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic Inc., a Chicago research and consulting firm that specializes in the food industry. "You're not going to Crumbs every day." "It's a short-term trend and we're starting to see a real saturation," he adds. "Demand is flat. And quite frankly, people can bake cupcakes."

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Opening Bell: 12.11.17

Bitcoin futures get off to a manic start; the tax bill is dumber than you could even imagine; Janet Yellen, “feminist icon”; Snap execs ordered sex on a company call; and more.