Opening Bell 7.24.18

UBS Merger gets some steam; Fannie Mae sees an exit; Planet Fitness patrons get nude and more!
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UBS Wealth Merger Gathers Pace as Investors Press for Returns [Bloomberg]

UBS Group AG’s newly combined wealth-management business and investment bank are helping Chief Executive Officer Sergio Ermotti boost growth after investors questioned the lender’s commitment to higher returns.

The private banking unit -- which counts many of the world’s billionaires among its clients -- took in more fees and interest income in the second quarter while bringing down costs, even as UBS saw money leave the firm. At the investment bank, surging equities and foreign-exchange trading helped the unit led by Andrea Orcel beat estimates.

Ermotti said UBS has begun to cut costs in wealth management following the merger of the U.S. and international division into one super-unit that manages about $2.4 trillion. While the business is producing steady profits, the lender rejigged financial targets this year after investors argued Ermotti should do more to improve returns after the shares languished.

UBS shares rose the most since April after the results were released on Tuesday, gaining as much as 4.2 percent in Zurich.

“We regard the results as a positive,” Javier Lodeiro, an analyst at Zuercher Kantonalbank, said in a note to clients. “Even if net new money disappointed and global wealth management didn’t really deliver a positive surprise.”

Trump looms over Republican nominating contest for Georgia governor [Reuters]

In May, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, who has Deal’s endorsement, finished ahead of Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. But Kemp, whose hardline campaigning approach dovetails with Trump’s, earned the president’s backing last week, a surprise endorsement that should give him a major boost among Republican voters in the run-off election.

“I would think it does give the edge to Kemp,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

Recent polls show a close race. The winner of Tuesday’s contest will face Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is vying to become the first black woman to serve as a U.S. state governor, in what is expected to be one of the most hotly contested races in November’s midterm elections. Trump carried Georgia by five percentage points in 2016.

Fund Managers See Caution Signs in Emerging-Market Bond Rebound [WSJ]

Emerging-market government bonds have bounced back from their decline in the first half of 2018, but many bond-fund managers aren’t buying the rebound.

Individual investors put about $100 million into emerging-market debt mutual funds in the second week of July as prices rose, reversing months of outflows, and adding to $13 billion they had already invested since mid-2016, according to Lipper. Rising dollar-denominated bond prices in July erased more than half of the losses from the first half of the year, showing the appeal of high-yielding bonds issued by nations including Argentina, Egypt and Brazil at a time of solid global growth and low interest rates.

Yet portfolio managers who focus on emerging debt remain lukewarm, zeroing in on signs that the debt remains risky despite price declines earlier in 2018. A survey of emerging-market debt investors conducted by Citigroup in early July found increasingly bearish sentiment compared to the second quarter, with more respondents building up cash in expectation of further price declines and 50% believing a full-blown trade war will break out. Trading and issuance remain below year-earlier levels, and firms like Deutsche BankAG and Nomura Holdings Inc. have cut staff in their emerging-market bond departments.

Fannie Mae CEO to Leave by Year’s End [WSJ]

Timothy J. Mayopoulos, a financial-services lawyer who as CEO helped lead the turnaround of Fannie from the depths of the financial crisis, will remain chief executive until the end of the year and yield the president title to David Benson, Fannie’s chief financial officer.

Fannie said Monday it is searching for a new CEO and that Mr. Mayopoulos hasn’t announced what he will do next.

The new CEO will be taking over an organization “without a clear political future,” said David Stevens, president and chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association. “It’s going to be a challenging time going forward.”

Mr. Mayopoulos, 59 years old, helmed Fannie as the company stabilized from the worst losses of the housing downturn and has repositioned the company to remain central to the functioning of U.S. mortgage markets.

Police: Naked Man Arrested At Planet Fitness Said He Thought It Was A ‘Judgment Free Zone’ [CBS Boston]

Police say 34-year-old Eric Stagno was walking around naked at the Plaistow gym before settling in on the yoga mats. Officers arrived at the Planet Fitness to find him nude on his knees in a yoga-type position.

The Haverhill man was arrested without incident and charged with indecent exposure/lewdness and disorderly conduct.

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