Opening Bell 6.01.18

Fiat moves; G7 allies; Craigslist pranks and more!
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Fiat Eyes Adding In-House Finance Unit in the U.S. [WSJ]

A vehicle financing unit could add €500 million ($585 million) to Fiat Chrysler’s bottom line by 2022 and secure a pathway toward commercializing car sharing services by establishing a deeper point of connection with consumers, according to brokerage Evercore.

Allies in G7 vow to fight U.S. tariffs, see threat to growth [Reuters]

The escalating trade conflict between the United States and many key allies will dominate the three-day meeting in Canada of financial leaders from the Group of Seven industrialized nations that began on Thursday, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin the top target for their complaints and lobbying.

A $142 Billion Fund Says Dollar Rally Done, Time for EM to Shine [Bloomberg]

The advance in Treasury yields across the curve will probably stall from here, while U.S.-China trade tensions will turn from being dollar positive to negative, said Nader Naeimi, who runs AMP’s $1.2 billion Dynamic Markets Fund and has begun shorting the greenback. In contrast, the selldown of emerging markets has resulted in a buying opportunity for some of their currencies given their healthy economies, he said.

GE Pulls Back From Work in Iran [WSJ]

GE had big ambitions in Iran after world powers, including the U.S., agreed to lift many sanctions on Tehran in 2016 in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. GE’s foreign subsidiaries were preparing as much as $150 million in bids for pipelines, compressors and subsea equipment in Iran and had been in talks with an Iranian manufacturer to make energy equipment, the people said.

ACLU files lawsuit after student banned from graduation for attempting to sell school on Craigslist [CBS 47]

Kylan Scheele, 18, admitted he posted the ad on Craigslist offering Truman High School in Independence, Missouri, for sale at a bargain price of $12,725, according to the Kansas City Star, but Scheele said it was just a joke.

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Opening Bell: 11.19.12

Geithner: Deal To Avoid 'Fiscal Cliff' Can Be Made In Weeks (Bloomberg) Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said he’s confident an agreement on averting the fiscal cliff can be concluded within weeks after White House talks between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders. “It was a good meeting, and the tone was very good,” Geithner said in an interview in Washington. “I think this is doable within several weeks.” Geithner said a deal must be reached soon to prevent further damaging consumer confidence. The lack of agreement is “this huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economy,” he said. As the peak of holiday shopping season approaches, “You’d want to do it as soon as you can.” “This is within our grasp, within our reach,” Geithner said. “It’s not that complicated.” Geithner repeated the administration’s calls for an immediate extension of middle-class tax cuts, and said a deal on high-end tax cuts shouldn’t be delayed. “I think deferring things doesn’t work,” he said. “You know, we’ve had several periods now where there was a choice made to defer.” Obama Calls CEOs, Including Buffett, Dimon (Politico) President Obama made calls to a handful of top business leaders over the weekend, a White House official said Sunday, as part of effort to build support for his approach to averting the fiscal cliff. In conversations that came during his weekend of travel to and in Asia, Obama stressed "the need to find a balanced deficit reduction solution that protects the middle class and continues to move our economy forward," the official said. Obama spoke to Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, Apple CEO Tim Cook, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney and Costco CEO Craig Jelinek, the official said. Lagarde: Reality' Not 'Wishful Thinking' Needed on Greece (Reuters) "I am always trying to be constructive but I am driven by two objectives," Lagarde said in an interview, "to build and approve a program for Greece that is solid, that is convincing today, that will be sustainable tomorrow, that is rooted in reality and not in wishful thinking. Investment Falls Off A Cliff (WSJ) U.S. companies are scaling back investment plans at the fastest pace since the recession, signaling more trouble for the economic recovery. Half of the nation's 40 biggest publicly traded corporate spenders have announced plans to curtail capital expenditures this year or next, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal of securities filings and conference calls. Sahara Feeling Heat Over Bond Sales (WSJ) India's Sahara Group has built an empire by offering financial products to tens of millions of rural Indians who typically stashed their meager savings under the mattress. Business was so good that Sahara, using fees and investments from its customers' deposits, grew into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that includes a 10,000-acre township, New York's Plaza Hotel building and a Formula-1 racing team. Today, the company's practices are coming under intense public scrutiny, the product of years of tussle between Sahara and regulators who worry India's informal financial sector has grown dangerously fast and without oversight. Many savers who scraped together money to put with Sahara now fear they could face lengthy delays in getting their money back. Opportunists Stockpile Twinkies for Big Payday (AP) Hours after the maker of Twinkies, Hostess Brands, announced its plans to close forever, people flocked to stores to fill their shopping baskets with boxes of Twinkies, which are cream-filled sponge cakes, and other snacks made by the company — Ding Dongs, Ho Hos and Zingers. Late Friday and Saturday, the opportunists took to the Web sites eBay and Craigslist. They began marketing their hoards to whimsical collectors and junk-food lovers for hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars. That is a fat profit margin, considering the retail price for a box of 10 Twinkies is about $5. Bond Investor Takes Big Punt On Ireland (FT) Franklin Templeton funds increased their holdings of Irish bonds by more than a third to at least €8.4 billion in the third quarter. This means that the San Francisco-based US asset manager now controls almost a 10th of Ireland’s entire government bond market. Most of the bonds have been snapped up by funds controlled by Michael Hasenstab, co-director of Franklin Templeton’s international bond department, and particularly by the $64 billion Templeton Global Bond Fund he manages. Kim Kardashian Weighs In On The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (HP) Kim Kardashian is apparently neutral when it comes to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reality star first tweeted support for Israel: "Praying for everyone in Israel," she wrote. And after five minutes of backlash, the star tweeted again: "And praying for everyone in Palestine and across the world!" she wrote. Kardashian is clearly the last person anyone wanted to hear from regarding the issue, and the 32-year-old was immediately hit with more backlash over the tweets -- including death threats. The star has since deleted the tweets and explained her reasons for tweeting about the conflict in a blog post on her website. Shadow Banking Grows to $67 Trillion Industry, Regulators Say (Bloomberg) The shadow banking industry has grown to about $67 trillion, $6 trillion bigger than previously thought, leading global regulators to seek more oversight of financial transactions that fall outside traditional oversight. The size of the shadow banking system, which includes the activities of money market funds, monoline insurers and off- balance sheet investment vehicles, “can create systemic risks” and “amplify market reactions when market liquidity is scarce,” the Financial Stability Board said in a report, which utilized more data than last year’s probe into the sector. “Appropriate monitoring and regulatory frameworks for the shadow banking system needs to be in place to mitigate the build-up of risks,” the FSB said in the report published on its website. Lehman Trustee Ends Citigroup Fight (WSJ) The trustee unwinding Lehman Brothers Inc. reached an agreement with Citigroup that ends a long-running legal fight over more than $1 billion that Lehman deposited at the bank the week it filed for bankruptcy protection. The deal puts $435 million in the coffers of Lehman's brokerage unit, LBI, for distribution to customers and other creditors, according to the settlement filed Friday night in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. Europe Seeks More Taxes From US Multinationals (NYT) Google, Amazon, Starbucks and other American companies facing tax scrutiny say they are doing nothing wrong. They use complex accounting strategies to exploit national differences across Europe in corporate tax rates, which range from less than 10 percent to more than 30 percent, and loopholes that can reduce their effective European tax levies to almost nothing. Google, for example, records most of its international revenue at its European headquarters in Ireland, where the corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent. Across Europe, customers who buy advertising, Google’s primary source of revenue, sign contracts with the company’s subsidiary in Ireland, rather than with local branches. Google ends up paying Irish taxes on only a fraction of the billions of euros that course through its Dublin office. That is because the company uses a variety of methods, including royalty payments to a unit in Bermuda, to reduce further the amount of money exposed to tax liability. So, while Google told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it generated more than $4 billion in sales in Britain last year, it reported revenue of only £396 million, or $629 million, in itsofficial filings there. Central New York district attorney Marc Suben admits to '70s porn star past (NYDN) Prior to this year’s election, Marc Suben denied appearing in 1970s skin flicks, telling reporters he was the subject of a campaign by political rivals who wanted to sully his reputation. But Friday, CNYCentral.com published a story highlighting a YouTube video comparing Suben with porn actor Gus Thomas, whose IMDB film credits include “Deep Throat Part 2” and “Doctor’s Teenage Dilemma.” Suben swiftly called a press conference and “humbly” apologized to those he had deceived. He admitted to using “bad judgment” both by appearing in adult films in his youth and by lying about them as a public official. He was first elected in 2008. “I was shocked and embarrassed to be confronted with this so many years later,” said Suben, who has also served as a judge. “I was embarrassed for my family and friends who stood by me. I also denied my actions to my family, my friends and my staff.” He declined to say whether he plans to resign.

Opening Bell: 10.18.12

Morgan Stanley Posts Loss (WSJ) "The rebound in fixed income and commodities sales and trading indicates that clients have re-engaged after the uncertainty of the rating review in the previous quarter," Chief Executive James Gorman said, referring to Moody's Investors Service's move over the summer to downgrade the credit rating on more than a dozen banks. "We are beginning to unlock the full potential of the Global Wealth Management franchise, having increased our ownership of, and agreed on a purchase price for the rest of, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management." For the quarter, Morgan Stanley reported a loss of $1.02 billion, compared with a year-earlier profit of $2.2 billion. The per-share loss, which reflects the payment of preferred dividends, was 55 cents compared with a profit of $1.15 a year earlier. Stripping out the impact of debt-valuation changes, the per-share profit was 28 cents versus two cents a share a year ago. Revenue fell 46% to $5.29 billion, including a negative impact of $2.3 billion from the tightening of credit spreads related to debt. Stripping out debt-valuation changes revenue was up 18% to $7.55 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 24 cents, excluding gains related to debt, on revenue of $6.36 billion. Morgan Stanley Reduces Investment-Bank Pay to $5.2 Billion (Bloomberg) The ratio of compensation to revenue in the unit fell to 44.9 percent, compared with 48.4 percent in the same period a year earlier, when excluding accounting gains and losses related to the firm’s credit spreads. That’s still higher than Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan’s investment bank. Compensation and benefits for all of Morgan Stanley totaled $12 billion in the first nine months, down 4 percent. Goldman Ex-Employee Says Firm Pushed Europe Bank Options (Bloomberg) Goldman Sachs sought to profit last year by persuading clients to buy and sell stock options on European banks such as BNP Paribas SA and UniCredit SpA, according to former employee Greg Smith’s new book. “We must have changed our view on each of these institutions from positive to negative back to positive ten times,” Smith writes in “Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story,” scheduled for release on Oct. 22. “I remember thinking, ‘How can we be doing this with a straight face? No thinking client could believe that conditions on the ground could change that frequently.”’ [...] Smith also describes being disappointed with his $500,000 bonus at the end of 2006. “By any measure, I should have felt exceptionally lucky and grateful,” he writes. “But by the warped logic of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street, I was being screwed.” U.S. to Get Downgraded Amid Fiscal ‘Theater,’ Pimco Says (Bloomberg) “The U.S. will get downgraded, it’s a question of when,” Scott Mather, Pimco’s head of global portfolio management, said today in Wellington. “It depends on what the end of the year looks like, but it could be fairly soon after that.” Asian Scion's Trades Draw Scrutiny (WSJ) A federal probe into an alleged multimillion-dollar insider trading scheme is focusing on the son of a deposed Central Asian autocrat once courted by the U.S. as a key ally in the war on terror, according to people involved in the investigation. The globe-spanning criminal case marks a turnabout by the U.S. against a ruling family it once relied on to keep open military supply lines to Afghanistan. For years, the U.S. maintained good relations with then-Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Now, the U.S. has prepared charges against the former strongman's son, Maksim Bakiyev, who officials say spent some of his exile in London profiting from illegal tips on stocks trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. On Friday, the younger Mr. Bakiyev, 35, was arrested in England on an extradition request from the U.S. Mr. Bakiyev's U.K. attorney, Michael O'Kane, declined to comment. Computer programmer 'quadruples productivity' after hiring a woman to slap him in the face every time she catches him looking at Facebook (DM) Maneesh Sethi placed an advert on Craigslist to recruit someone willing to monitor what he was looking at on his laptop. The computer expert and writer, from San Francisco, now pays a female employee £5 ($8) an hour to strike him in the face if she spots him wasting time on social media. Mr Seethi claims the unusual motivational system has helped him boost his productivity from just 35 percent to around 98 percent during the working day...Mr Seethi published details on his blog of his Craigslist advert, which was entitled '(Domestic gigs) Slap me if I get off task'. In it he wrote: 'I'm looking for someone who can work next to me at a defined location (my house or a cafe) and will make sure to watch what is happening on my screen. 'When I am wasting time, you'll have to yell at me or if need be, slap me. 'You can do your own work at the same time. Looking for help asap. Mr Seethi said he was inundated with offers from potential slappers and quickly hired a volunteer he names only as Kara. He wrote: 'Within minutes, my inbox began blowing up. Up to 50% of Greek Workforce Strikes; Tipping Point Nears (CNBC) As European Union leaders prepare to meet in Brussels on Thursday, Greece’s workers aim to make their voices heard by holding a 24-hour strike bringing the country to a halt. With the economy in the fifth year of a recession, the lost production could prove counterproductive and cost the economy 100 million euros ($131 million), according to one expert. Most business and public sector activity is expected to grind to a halt during the strike called by the ADEDY and GSEE unions that represent around 2 million people — half of Greece’s workforce. A protracted news blackout is also expected as television and radio broadcasters and newspapers shut for the day, according to Reuters. Spain Banks Face More Pain as Worst-Case Scenario Turns Real (Bloomberg) Spain’s request for 100 billion euros of European Union financial aid to shore up its banks is increasing concern about the nation’s growing liabilities. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s debt rating by two levels to BBB-, one step above junk, from BBB+ on Oct. 10, saying it wasn’t clear who will bear the cost of recapitalizing banks. It cut the ratings of 11 lenders including Banco Santander SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain’s largest, two days ago, citing the sovereign downgrade. Brothels Rescue Cash-Strapped Greek Soccer Team (AP) Players on a cash-strapped Greek soccer team now wear pink practice jerseys with the logos "Villa Erotica" and "Soula's House of History," two bordellos it recruited as sponsors after drastic government spending cuts left the country's sports clubs facing ruin. Other teams have also turned to unconventional financing. One has a deal with a local funeral home and others have wooed kebab shops, a jam factory and producers of Greece's trademark feta cheese. But the amateur Voukefalas club — whose players include pizza delivery guys, students, waiters and a bartender — has raised eyebrows with its flamboyant sponsorship choice. Prostitution is legal in Greece, where brothels operate under strict guidelines. Though garish neon signs advertising their services are tolerated, the soccer sponsorship has ruffled some feathers in the sports-mad city of Larissa. League organizers have banned the pink jerseys during games, saying the deal violates "the sporting ideal" and is inappropriate for underage fans...Brothel owner Soula Alevridou, the team's new benefactor, has already paid more than 1,000 euros ($1,312) for players to wear her jerseys. The team is appealing the game ban, but that doesn't worry the 67-year-old Alevridou, who says she's only in it because she loves soccer. "It's not the kind of business that needs promotion," she said, dressed all in white and flanked by two young women in dark leggings at a recent game. "It's a word-of-mouth kind of thing."

Opening Bell: 10.21.15

Weight Watchers creams short-sellers; European officials want Symphony probed; Perella Weinberg sues ex partners; "Have a ball (or a a few) at Syracuse’s Testical Festival"; and more.

Opening Bell: 04.27.12

LightSquared Lenders Pressure Falcone (WSJ) If Mr. Falcone doesn't agree to eventually leave LightSquared's board and make way for new executives and directors at the wireless communications firm, lenders are likely to balk and the company could end up filing for bankruptcy protection, they said. Shareholders Rebuke Barclays, Credit Suisse on Pay (Reuters) More than a quarter of Barclays shareholders look set to vote against the British bank's controversial pay plan for bosses and Credit Suisse is also facing a backlash as investors seek a greater share of profits. Stormy annual shareholder meetings at both banks got underway on Friday with many attendees complaining executives are getting too big a slice of bank income at their expense...Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius apologized for badly communicating the bank's pay strategy and promised to "materially" increase the dividend shareholders receive, helping to lift the bank's shares more than 4 percent. But he was heckled during his speech to a packed hall of about 2,000 shareholders and his comments about pay were greeted with laughter in some quarters. Renowned short-seller bets against Fortescue (SMH) Hedge fund short-seller Jim Chanos has singled out Fortescue Metals as a "value trap" stock, telling a New York conference that shares in billionaire Andrew Forrest's company will fall "materially." In a presentation this month to Grant's Spring Conference, a private investment forum, Mr Chanos, the boss of Kynikos Associates, told investors he feared iron ore miner Fortescue has "a somewhat promotional management team." Goldman Banker Probed For Alleged Leaks To Galleon (WSJ) U.S. prosecutors and securities regulators are investigating whether a senior Goldman investment banker gave Galleon hedge-fund traders advance word of pending health-care deals, according to people familiar with the matter. The banker, whom the people identified as Matthew Korenberg, is a San Francisco-based managing director for Goldman, a senior post. Among the merger deals being scrutinized by Los Angeles federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission is the 2009 acquisition by Abbott Laboratories of Advanced Medical Optics, a Santa Ana, Calif., medical-device maker—a deal in which Mr. Korenberg advised Advanced Medical Optics, the people say. Another is the acquisition of APP Pharmaceuticals Inc. by Fresenius, announced in July 2008, in which Goldman advised APP, they say. Unlikely Allies (NYP) Billionaire hedge-fund mogul and Republican stalwart Paul Singer is in an odd position of late — asking the Obama administration for help to keep troubled mortgage lender ResCap out of bankruptcy. Singer, whose Elliott Associates owns debt in the mortgage lender, a unit of Ally Financial, asked Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in recent weeks to use the government’s 74-percent stake in Ally to press for an alternative financial cure. An out-of-bankruptcy solution would help Elliott, to be sure, but would also assist the White House by keeping a unit of one of its high-profit bailouts from outright failure. But Singer, so far, hasn’t gotten any satisfaction. Geithner, insiders said, doesn’t want to use Treasury’s muscle to stop the likely Chapter 11 filing because it could be interpreted as the government overstepping its bounds. Spain Urges Focus On Reforms After Downgrade (WSJ) The government has embarked on a plan of far-reaching reforms to overhaul the economy, including new labor laws and a cleanup of the banking sector. Mr. Jiménez Latorre said these reforms will pay dividends in the medium- to long-term. The S&P ratings action "just focuses on the immediate effects," which won't be positive, Mr. Jiménez Latorre said. Dream Stenographer / Lucid Dreaming Partner (Craigslist) "I possess the wonderful gift of regularly occuring and incredibly vivid lucid dreams. In these dreams I have written Pulitzer Prize winning novels, bioengineered the cure for HIV, and brokered a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. I have also composed Grammy winning albums. The only problem is humanity hasn't and can't benefit from my accomplishments because I forget how I achieved them shortly after waking. As a modern Renaissance man and philosopher scientist, my conscience cannot be at peace knowing I'm not doing everything possible to save my fellow human beings. Therefore I would like to a hire a dream stenographer to write down my ideas so that I may share them with the world. You, the dream stenographer, will sleep within arm's reach of me on selected nights when I feel my mind is operating at its peak performance level. Sleeping is mandatory as I'm not able to reach my optimum dream state when someone is watching me sleep. Remaining within arm's reach at all times is also mandatory so that I may wake you as quickly as possible to begin recording my stream of consciousness.Qualified applicants will be excellent note takers with unrivaled penmanship." KKR Earnings Beat Expectations (WSJ) Economic net income, a measure of private-equity firms' profitability that analysts follow because it includes both realized and unrealized investment gains, was $727.2 million, or 99 cents a share, compared to $742.5 million, or 96 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. The earnings came in at the top end of analysts' estimates, with a consensus economic net income of $486.6 million, or 74 cents a share, according to Thompson Reuters. NYSE CEO 'very disappointed' to lose out on Facebook listing (DJ) Just so you know. Wells Fargo to Buy Merlin Securities Prime Brokerage (Bloomberg) The purchase is Wells Fargo’s first foray into prime brokerage services and the bank will use the business as a foundation to expand, said Christopher Bartlett, head of equity sales and trading at the San Francisco-based lender. Prime- brokerage includes services such as lending, clearing trades and record-keeping that help hedge fund managers run their firms. Bartlett wouldn’t say how much Wells Fargo paid and a statement set to be released later today didn’t disclose the terms. Bo Xilai's Son Ticketed in Porsche (WSJ) Disputing a notion common in China that he lives a lavish lifestyle, Mr. Bo wrote to the Harvard Crimson on Tuesday saying he wished to address "rumors and allegations about myself." Among other things, "I have never driven a Ferrari," he wrote. The Wall Street Journal reported in November, based on people familiar with the episode, that Mr. Bo, the grandson of an illustrious Communist leader of the Mao era, arrived at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Beijing in a red Ferrari last year to pick up the daughter of the then-ambassador...Massachusetts Department of Transportation records show Mr. Bo was stopped by police for allegedly running stop signs in December 2010 and May 2011, one of them at 2:20 a.m., and for speeding in February 2011. The license plate of the car, which the Journal learned from someone familiar with the matter, showed it was a black 2011 Porsche Panamera registered to someone at his address.

Opening Bell: 12.28.12

Blackstone seen sticking with SAC despite insider trading probe (Reuters / Matthew Goldstein) Three sources said the asset management arm of Blackstone, which has $550 million invested with SAC Capital, is in no rush to redeem money from the Stamford, Connecticut-based hedge fund. Blackstone has had at least three discussions with the $14 billion hedge fund's executives about the insider trading investigation and talked to its own investors, which include state pension funds, endowments and wealthy individuals. Hitler parody leaves French bank BNP red-faced (IN24) French banking giant BNP was left red-faced this week after it emerged managers were shown a motivational video featuring a parody of a famous scene from the film "Downfall" in which Adolf Hitler is portrayed as the boss of Germany's Deutsche Bank. It’s a scene that has been parodied thousands of times before to comic effect. But it appears not many people have seen the funny side of one particular version made by executives of French bank BNP Paribas...In the video, which was shown to around 100 managers from around the world at a seminar in Amsterdam last year, Hitler is turned into a fuming boss of Germany’s Deutsche Bank reacting furiously to news that BNP has gained an edge in the foreign exchange market. But far from being motivated, many of the managers who saw the video were outraged. “We could not believe the bank had actually dared to do that – make an analogy between our competitors and the Nazi regime. It took us a few minutes to take it in,” one BNP employee told French daily Liberation, who revealed the story this week. “We were shocked. Nobody knew how to react. Some Jewish employees from the United States did not find it funny at all,” another employee told the paper. “If this video had been shown by an American bank it would have been a major scandal,” an angry BNP source added. Rather surprisingly the video is believed to have been uploaded to the bank’s internal Intranet site before the management realised it might prove embarrassing and quickly removed it. A spokeswoman for BNP told FRANCE 24 on Friday that the bank’s senior management were totally unaware the video had been made until they were contacted by Libération this week. The spokeswoman said BNP’s CEO Jean Laurent Bonnafé had called his counterpart at Deutsche Bank Jürgen Fitschen to personally apologise for the stunt. In a statement in Libération the bank added that the message in the video was “contrary to the values of BNP." Obama Summons Congress Leaders as Budget Deadline Nears (Bloomberg) Obama, who had been negotiating one-on-one with House Speaker John Boehner, will meet today with Republicans Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats. Cliff Talks Down To The Wire (WSJ) It is still possible the two sides can reach a deal, especially with the leaders meeting Friday. Any resolution would be a scaled-back version of the package Mr. Obama and congressional leaders had anticipated passing after the November election. The White House is pressing for the Senate to extend current tax rates for income up to $250,000, extend unemployment benefits, keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting millions of additional taxpayers and delay spending cuts set to take effect in January. The 11th-hour strategy carries enormous risk because it leaves no margin for error in Congress's balky legislative machinery. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said the prospects for passage of a bill before the last day of the year are fading rapidly. "I have to be very honest," he said. "I don't know time-wise how it can happen now." Spain's PM does not rule out asking for European aid (Reuters) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Friday he did not rule out tapping the European Central Bank's bond-buying program for troubled euro zone governments but said Spain did not expect to have to ask for aid for now. "We are not thinking of asking the European Central Bank to intervene and buy bonds in the secondary market," he said at a news conference in Madrid. "But we can't rule it out in the future." Banks pay $4.5M for muni charges (NYP) Citigroup and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch are among five firms that will pay $4.48 million to settle regulatory claims they used funds from municipal and state bond deals to pay lobbyists. Local authorities were unfairly asked to reimburse payments that the firms made over five years to the California Public Securities Association, a lobbying group, to help influence the state, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which oversees securities firms, said yesterday. The firms inadequately described the fees, wrapping them into bond-underwriting expenses, Finra said...The banks, also including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, agreed to pay $3.35 million in fines and reimburse certain California bond issuers $1.13 million. Porsche Wins Dismissal of US Hedge Fund Lawsuit Over VW (Reuters) A five-justice panel of the New York State appeals court in Manhattan unanimously found that Porsche had met its "heavy burden" to establish that the state was the wrong place in which to bring the lawsuit. That panel reversed an Aug. 6 ruling by New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos that let the case by hedge funds including Glenhill Capital LP, David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital LP and Chase Coleman's Tiger Global LP proceed. The funds accused Porsche of engineering a "massive short squeeze" in October 2008 by quietly buying nearly all freely traded ordinary VW shares in a bid to take over the company, despite publicly stating it had no plans to take a 75 percent stake. IPOs Slump To Lowest Levels Since Financial Crisis (Bloomberg) IPOs have raised $112 billion worldwide this year, the least since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Initial sales in western Europe dropped to one-third of last year’s level, while concern about China’s economy helped cut proceeds in Asia by almost half. U.S. offerings raised $41 billion, little changed from last year, as Facebook’s IPO spurred a monthlong drought in U.S. deals. Avery Johnson Jr. vents on Twitter after dad, Avery Johnson, is fired by Brooklyn Nets (NYDN, RELATED) The ex-Nets coach’s teenage son took to Twitter to vent after news broke that his dad had been given a pink slip by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets. “This is a f------ Outrage. My dad is a great coach, he just got coach of the month and they Fire him. #Smh. Completely new team he had,” Johnson Jr. wrote on Twitter. “The expectations were way to high for this team. We didn’t even have a losing record.... Didn’t even give my dad a full season. #OUTRAGE,” Johnson Jr. continued. Johnson was fired a day after the new-look Nets fell to .500 following a listless road loss to the Bucks. The canning comes on the heels of Deron Williams saying he’s never been comfortable playing in Johnson’s offense. Williams, who did not play in Wednesday night’s loss, is mired in a season-long shooting slump with field goal and 3-point percentages at career-worst levels. “I’m sorry (our) best players couldn’t make open shots. Yeah that’s my dad’s fault totally,” Johnson Jr. tweeted. 'Whale' Capsized Banks' Rule Effort (WSJ) Wall Street banks entered 2012 confident they could stall a wave of rules that they feared would hurt profits. But they are ending the year largely resigned that their activities will be constrained and monitored more closely by the government. One big reason for the change: J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.76% & Co.'s "London whale" losses. The bad trades, ultimately resulting in about $6 billion in losses, disrupted the banks' campaign against the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, according to regulators, lawmakers and close observers of policy debates in Washington. The trades damaged the reputation of J.P. Morgan, which suffered less than other banks from the financial crisis, and its chief executive, James Dimon, during a crucial period of policy debate in Washington, putting critics of Dodd-Frank on the defensive. Before news of the whale losses emerged, banks were arguing, with some success, that too-tight regulations were crimping lending during a time of slow growth. Michael Greenberger, a finance professor at the University of Maryland and an advocate of regulations aimed at reining in bank trading, said that in early 2012 his allies' "backs were against the wall." "Then the London whale blew all of that out of the water," he said. Mortgages Fueled Hedge Funds To 13.9 Percent Gain (NYP) Hedge funds that invest in mortgage-backed securities gained 13.9 percent through November to make them the industry’s best-performing strategy, according to the Absolute Return index. Top players that did even better included Metacapital Management, Pine River, Axonic Capital, and Greg Lippman's LibreMax Capital. High-Speed Traders Race to Fend Off Regulators (WSJ) Defenders say high-frequency trading keeps markets lubricated with a constant supply of buy and sell orders that enables all participants to trade more efficiently and get better pricing. High-speed traders, supporters add, have helped foster competition among exchanges and other trading venues, lowering commission-based fees for small investors and helping bring down overall costs for mutual-fund managers. Another benefit some cite: Technology innovations spurred by high-speed traders serve to connect more investors to more trading venues, broadening their options in the markets. Critics, for their part, worry that the traders' order torrent makes markets more opaque, less stable and ultimately less fair. Will 'Fiscal Clif' Accelerate Millionaire Deaths? (NetNet) John Carney: "...it at least seems likely that some deaths that might otherwise have occurred shortly after January 1 will occur shortly before." Man gets DUI after driving on AA co-founder's lawn (AP) Vermont State Police say a man faces a drunken driving charge after driving onto the lawn of a historic home once owned by the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Police say 55-year-old Donald Blood III of Marlborough, Mass., was ordered to appear in court in Bennington on Jan. 14. Police say Blood thought he was driving into a parking lot, but actually it was the lawn of the Wilson House, built in 1852 in Dorset, the birthplace of AA co-founder Bill Wilson. The Wilson House's website describes it as a "place of sanctuary where people can come to give thanks to God for their new lives." It still hosts several AA meetings each week. Programming Note< : We’re on an abbreviated, vacation-esque schedule this week (opening news roundups and limited updates whenever the urge to reach out and touch you moves us). We still want to hear from you, though, so if anything happens that you think might tickle our fancy, do not hesitate to let us know.