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Opening Bell: 10.4.18

Chinese mega hack; DoJ in on Danske Bank; Third Point moving on Campbell's; Russian billionaire mad at Sotheby's; and more!
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The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies [Bloomberg]
Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.
During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.

WilburRossChina

White House Sends F.B.I. Interviews on Kavanaugh to Senate [NYT]
“The White House has received the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s supplemental background investigation into Judge Kavanaugh, and it is being transmitted to the Senate,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said in the statement, which was posted on Twitter.
“This is the last addition to the most comprehensive review of a Supreme Court nominee in history, which includes extensive hearings, multiple committee interviews, over 1,200 questions for the record and over a half million pages of documents,” he added. “With this additional information, the White House is fully confident the Senate will vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.”

Danske Bank Under Criminal Investigation by U.S. Justice Department [WSJ]
The Justice Department has been requesting information from Danske Bank regarding its Estonian branch, the bank said in a statement. Danske Bank has said it suspects employees at that branch actively helped thousands of clients circumvent money laundering controls over a nine-year-period.
On Thursday, the bank also canceled a share buyback program, after Danish authorities ordered it to build up capital in case of a pending fine or financial trouble. The Justice Department has the power to fine foreign banks—often hundreds of millions of dollars—for money laundering violations, in addition to similar fines the bank could face in Denmark or elsewhere.

Exclusive: Third Point demands Campbell Soup board records [Reuters]
Third Point’s move offers an example of the legal tools shareholder activists are increasingly using to boost their chances of winning proxy contests against corporate boards.
Such maneuvering could prove crucial in this case, given Third Point, which owns 5.65 percent of the canned soup maker, faces challenges in wooing some key shareholders. Descendants of former Campbell Soup Chairman John Dorrance own a combined 42 percent stake in the company, representing a major hurdle.

GM tops Tesla in ranking of automated driving systems [CNBC]
Consumer Reports tested four of the most popular systems and says Cadillac's Super Cruise does the best job of ensuring the vehicle is driven safely while making sure the driver pays attention when they take their hands off the steering wheel.
"Super Cruise has a camera that looks at the driver's eyes and warns them if they look away for too long or fall asleep and that's a game changer," said Jake Fisher, director of Auto Testing at Consumer Reports.

Russian billionaire claims Sotheby’s conned him out of $1B [NY Post]
Two entities owned by billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev brought their civil case to a Manhattan federal court late on Tuesday, accusing the New York auction house of helping a Swiss art dealer con Rybolovlev out of $1 billion.
The dealer, Yves Bouvier, orchestrated Rybolovlev’s purchase of 38 masterworks in 37 transactions (two Picassos were purchased in a single deal) between 2003 and 2015.
The suit claims Bouvier pretended to negotiate with sellers of the masterworks on behalf of Rybolovlev — only to strike secret deals to buy them himself.

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By Captain-tucker (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Bell: 9.21.16

Senators vs Wells Fargo; Hedge funds vs SABMiller deal; DOJ vs former Fed staffer; Son of Chinese billionaire buys eight iPhone 7s for his dog; and more.

Opening Bell: 02.19.13

SAC’s Cohen May Face SEC Suit as Deposition Hurts Case (Bloomberg) U.S. investigators have subpoenaed a 2011 deposition of SAC Capital Advisors LP founder Steven Cohen, whose sworn statements on insider-trading compliance may hurt him as he tries to persuade regulators not to file a lawsuit with the potential to shut his $14 billion firm. The SEC told the hedge fund Nov. 20 that it planned to sue SAC for securities fraud and so-called control-person liability for failing to supervise employees. The same day, the agency accused an ex-SAC portfolio manager and his hedge-fund unit of insider trading for persuading Cohen, 56, to make $700 million in illegal trades. Prosecutors also indicted the manager. Cohen’s testimony, reviewed by Bloomberg News, establishes his personal control over the unit, CR Intrinsic, and records his unfamiliarity with his firm’s compliance and ethics policies on insider trading. “I’ve read the compliance manual, but I don’t remember exactly what it says,” Cohen said. Morgan Stanley Strives to Coordinate 2 Departments Often at Odds (Dealbook) Traditionally, traders and investment bankers think of themselves as the elite of Wall Street and look down on the retail business, seeing it as pedestrian...Yet since Morgan Stanley moved to acquire control of the Smith Barney brokerage business from Citigroup in 2009, the balance of power has shifted to wealth management, which now accounts for almost 52 percent of the company’s earnings, up from roughly 16 percent in 2006. Paulson Leads Funds to Bermuda Tax Dodge Aiding Billionaires (Bloomberg) A decade after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service threatened to crack down on what it said were abuses by hedge-fund backed reinsurers, more high-profile money managers are setting up shop in tax havens. Paulson, SAC Capital Advisors LP’s Steven A. Cohen and Third Point LLC’s Daniel Loeb have started Bermuda reinsurance companies since 2011, following a similar Cayman Islands venture by Greenlight Capital Inc.’s David Einhorn. Options Activity Questioned Again (WSJ) Over the past year, unusually large positions were established shortly in advance of news that moved shares of Nexen Inc., Youku Inc., Human Genome Sciences Inc., Constellation Brands Inc. and, most recently, CBS Corp. All turned profitable after the news. A spokeswoman for the SEC, which regulates stock and options trading, said the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of inquiries into trading tied to those companies. No charges have been filed in the Heinz case, which was linked to a Swiss trading account, but the move to freeze the assets is one of the fastest enforcement actions ever filed by the agency, according to officials. The SEC said Friday that the timing and size of the trades were highly suspicious given the account had no history of trading in Heinz securities in the last six months. Prosecutors, Shifting Strategy, Build New Wall Street Cases (Dealbook) Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks. In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations...The new strategy first materialized in recent settlements with UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which were accused of manipulating interest rates to bolster profit. As part of a broader deal, the banks’ Japanese subsidiaries pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud. Russians Wade Into the Snow to Seek Treasure From the Sky (NYT) Ever since the meteor exploded somewhere over this impoverished Siberian town, Larisa V. Briyukova wondered what to do with the fist-size stone she found under a hole in the roof tiles of her woodshed. On Monday, a stranger knocked on her door, offering about $60, Ms. Briyukova said. After some haggling, they settled on a price of $230. A few hours later, another man pulled up, looked at the hole in the roof and offered $1,300. “Now I regret selling it,” said Ms. Briyukova, a 43-year-old homemaker. “But then, who knows? The police might have come and taken it away anyway.” On Friday, terror rained from the skies, blowing out windows and scaring people over an enormous swath of Siberia. But by Monday, for many people what fell from the sky had turned to pure gold, and it touched off a rush to retrieve the fragments, many buried in deep February snows. Many of those out prospecting looked a lot like Sasha Zarezina, 8, who happily plunged into a snowbank here in this village of a thousand, laughing, kicking and throwing up plumes of powdery snow. Then she stopped, bent over and started to dig. “I found one!” she yelled. A warm breath and a rub on her pants later, a small black pebble, oval like a river rock, charred and smooth, was freed of ice. While trade in material from meteorites is largely illegal, there is a flourishing global market, with fragments widely available for sale on the Internet, usually at modest prices. At least one from the recent meteor was available on eBay on Monday for $32, and there is a Web site called Star-bits.com devoted to the trade — much to the displeasure of scientists and the countries where the objects were found. UK's Lloyds fined $6.7 million for mis-sold insurance (Reuters) Britain's financial regulator on Tuesday fined Lloyds Banking Group 4.3 million pounds ($6.7 million) for failing to handle complaints relating to insurance sold on loans and mortgages properly. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said failings in the bank's systems and controls resulted in up to 140,000 customers experiencing delays in receiving compensation for being mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). Horsemeat Scandal Draws in Nestlé (FT) Switzerland-based Nestle on Monday removed pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain and suspended deliveries of all processed products containing meat from German supplier, H.J. Schypke, after tests revealed traces of horse DNA above 1 per cent. Nestle said it had informed the authorities. Is Berlusconi Getting a Poll Bounce From Tax Evaders? (CNBC) The media mogul, who has been convicted of tax fraud, has promised to introduce a tax amnesty for evaders if elected and to abolish the real estate tax. Swelling U.S. Labor Force Keeps Fed at Ease (Bloomberg) In the short run, the larger labor force will have an unfortunate side effect: It will slow the fall in unemployment. Mellman sees the jobless rate dropping to 7.5 percent by year- end from 7.9 percent now. It fell 0.7 percentage point in 2012. In the longer run, a bigger supply of labor is good news because it swells the pool of Americans available and willing to work, enhancing the economy’s potential to grow, according to Julie Hotchkiss, a policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. It also has a silver lining for investors. The gradual fall in unemployment will allow policy makers to keep monetary policy looser for longer without having to worry about igniting a wage- driven rise in inflation. Couple Getting Affectionate Drive Through Home (WO) "She told the investigating trooper that her and the boyfriend were getting a little amorous and the trooper suspects that's probably why she lost control of the vehicle," said Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Montes. Walker lost control of the vehicle and slammed into an unoccupied home. The vehicle went all the way through the house. The impact was so dramatic, the pressure blew a window in another part of the house out. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Walker was injured when debris fell inside the vehicle. She was taken to Halifax Medical Center to be checked out. Her boyfriend, Charles Phillips, was not hurt.

ZuckerBadger

Opening Bell: 3.20.18

Facebook and trade wars got everyone spooked; Brexit update; Uber won't kill anyone today; Bear votes in Russian election; and more!

Opening Bell: 01.07.13

Regulators Give Ground To Banks (WSJ) Global banking regulators watered down a key element of their plan for creating a safer financial system, giving ground to banks that argued the rules were unworkable and financially risky. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a group of the world's top regulators and central bankers, said Sunday that it agreed to relax a rule designed to ensure that big banks are able to weather financial crises without running short of cash. Bowing to two years of intense pressure from the banking industry, the regulators made it easier for banks to meet the rule, known as the "liquidity coverage ratio," and delayed its full implementation until 2019. It is the latest instance of regulators chipping away at their landmark 2010 response to the global financial crisis. The regulators argue that the changes make banking rules much stronger than they were before the crisis. Herbalifers Stay Resolute (WSJ) When hedge-fund manager William Ackman unveiled his 334-slide presentation alleging that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme, it did nothing to shake Joanne Clare. The 38-year-old Staten Island mother of three has been selling the company's weight-loss products and supplements since 2004, when she says they helped her drop from 210 to 160 pounds in four months. She now sells as much as $3,500 a month of Herbalife products to her 30 clients and the two distributors in her "down line." "People have always said it's a pyramid scheme, but it's not," Ms. Clare said, adding that the bulk of her earnings come from sales to clients, not her cut of her recruits' take. Mr. Ackman's declaration that he had bet more than $1 billion against Herbalife caused many investors to flee, sending the stock down 38% in four days in late December. But some of the company's 3.1-million-strong army of distributors were unmoved. Eliot Spitzer Ends His Show On Current TV (NYT) The announcement comes a few days after Al Jazeera said it was acquiring Current TV. Later this year, the Qatar-owned broadcaster plans to turn the channel into an Americanized version of the international news channel Al Jazeera English. Mr. Spitzer said he had a “wonderful time” at Current, but emphasized that his relationship was with Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, Current’s co-founders, not with Al Jazeera. “Moving forward, their mission will be different,” he said — more international newscasts, less liberal talk about the news. Citi's Corbat builds bridges (Reuters) Citigroup Inc's Michael Corbat has been meeting with bank regulators in his first months as CEO, as he looks to bolster relationships and finalize the bank's plan to return capital to shareholders, sources familiar with the matter said. Corbat also expects to name his team of top managers within the next week or so, one of the sources said on Sunday. Corbat is expected to play it safe when Citigroup asks the U.S. Federal Reserve for permission for moves such as buying back shares or increasing dividends, analysts and investors said. His predecessor, Vikram Pandit, lost his job in October in part because the bank's request for returning capital was denied in March. The bank, which is due to submit its plan to the Fed on Monday, has not yet done so, the source said. The third-largest U.S. bank will only seek approval to buy back shares and not raise dividends, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Last year, the bank wanted permission to return more than $8 billion to shareholders over two years, the paper said. For Newly Minted MBAs, A Small Paycheck (WSJ) For graduates with minimal experience—three years or less—median pay was $53,900 in 2012, down 4.6% from 2007-08, according to an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by PayScale.com. Pay fell at 62% of the 186 schools examined. Even for more seasoned grads the trend is similar, says Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale.com. "In general, it seems that M.B.A. pay is either stagnant or falling," she says...It is all a far cry from the late 1980s and early 1990s heyday for M.B.A.s, when some companies would hire 100 or more M.B.A.s. It wasn't uncommon to recruit first, and fill actual jobs later. DOJ pledges to respect Swiss law in tax probe (Reuters) Swiss chief finance diplomat Michael Ambuehl was given a verbal pledge from the U.S. Department of Justice to respect Swiss law when asking for bank client data of potential tax dodgers, a newspaper reported on Sunday. Switzerland is in negotiations with U.S. authorities to find a deal that would end tax probes into at least ten Swiss banks suspected of helping clients dodge taxes, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer. The Alpine country is trying to preserve what is left of its cherished banking secrecy that suffered a severe blow in 2009 when UBS, the first Swiss bank that came under scrutiny in the U.S., was required to disclose client data. Brazilian prison gaurds catch cat that slipped through the gate with escape tools taped to its body (NYDN) Guards at a Brazilian prison nabbed a white cat that slipped through the gate with a cell phone, drills, small saws and other contraband taped to its body. Alagoas prison spokeswoman Cinthya Moreno says the cat was caught New Year’s Eve at the medium-security prison in the city of Arapiraca. The O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported Saturday that all of the prison’s 263 inmates are suspects in the smuggling attempt, though a spokesperson said, “It will be hard to discover who is responsible since the cat does not speak.” Loeb, Cooperman Stand Out in Horrid Year for Hedge Funds (CNBC) Third Point was the clear hedge fund standout in a horrible year for the industry as almost nine out of 10 managers underperformed the S&P 500. Omega Advisors' Leon Cooperman also scored big. Loeb — once better known for his acerbic letters to CEOs — used an activist position in Yahoo and the contrarian buying of Greek bonds to drive the firm's flagship fund to a 21 percent gain in 2012. The firm's more-leveraged Ultra fund posted an even bigger 34 percent return...Cooperman's fund had a net return of 26 percent in 2012. Banks Zero In On Foreclosure Pact (WSJ) Banks were closing in on a $10 billion foreclosure-abuse settlement with regulators that could be announced as soon as Monday, according to people familiar with the talks. The settlement was nearly complete Sunday afternoon, the people said, after the Federal Reserve backed down on a demand for more compensation for consumers and other changes to the pact. Bankers threatened to walk away from the deal if the Fed's demand for an additional $300 million was included, a person briefed on the talks said. Junk Bonds' Fire Is Poised to Fade (WSJ) Junk bonds started 2013 much like they finished 2012—on fire. In just three trading days this year, bonds of low-rated companies delivered returns of almost three-quarters of a percent, even as most other types of bonds lost value. And junk bonds continued to clock new milestones: Average prices soared to their highest since 2004 and average yields, which decline as prices rise, dropped below 6% for the first time ever, according to Barclays. But the rapid march is making fund managers and analysts wary. Prices are now so high—averaging more than 105 cents on the dollar—that there is little room for them to climb much further, some investors say. These are lofty prices for bonds that usually trade below 100 cents, reflecting the higher default risk for such companies. At the very least, returns will pale in comparison with the 15% achieved in 2012, analysts and investors say. NHL, Players Settle Labor Dispute (AP) On the 113th day of a management lockout and five days before the league's deadline for a deal, the bleary-eyed sides held a 6 a.m. news conference to announce there will be a season, after all. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr both appeared drained, wearing sweaters and not neckties, when they stood side by side at the hotel and announced labor peace. "We have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," Bettman said. "We've got to dot a lot of Is, cross a lot of Ts. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework of the deal has been agreed upon." Hostess in Talks to Sell Off Bread Brands (WSJ) Hostess could disclose Flowers, Grupo Bimbo or others as opening bidders in a looming bankruptcy-court auction for the assets as soon as this week, said people familiar with the matter. Hostess, whose bread brands include Wonder Bread, Nature's Pride, Home Pride, Merita and Butternut, is still determining how to split up assets and package them for buyers, one of the people said. Gérard Depardieu gives up French citizenship after bitter tax fight (GM) In a fit of pique, French movie star Gérard Depardieu announced during the weekend that he would give up his citizenship after politicians and the media took him to task for moving to Belgium and avoiding an impending tax hike for the rich. Mr. Depardieu is not France’s first fiscal refugee but his high-profile door-slamming so monopolized public debate that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had on Monday to parse whether or not he had insulted the actor. “I did not call Mr. Depardieu a loser, I said that it was loser-like [to move to Belgium to avoid taxes],” Mr. Ayrault told reporters...The “loser” comment seemed to have been the jab that stung Mr. Depardieu the most. “Loser, did you say loser?” the 63-year–old actor began an open letter to Mr. Ayrault that appeared Sunday in Le Journal du dimanche. Mr. Depardieu wrote that he had paid a total of €145-million in income tax in the last four decades and kept 80 people employed. He added that he had been taxed at a marginal rate of 85 per cent this year. “I am giving you back my passport and my social insurance, which I had never used. We no longer have the same fatherland. I am a true European, a citizen of the world.”

Opening Bell: 06.07.13

‘This Will be the Most Important Payroll Release in Years’ (WSJ MoneyBeat) Every payrolls day is a hype-fest, but particularly today. Today’s release will be the “most important payroll release in years”, wrote Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. It follows “the seventh-worst month of returns for fixed income since ’85 and the largest week of bond fund redemptions since Oct ’08,” the bank says. So, no pressure. The consensus forecast gathered by Dow Jones Newswires is for a rise of 169,000 in the reading for May, with an unchanged employment rate of 7.5%. Draghi lauds ‘most successful’ ECB action (FT) A combative Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, strongly defended one of his bank’s most unorthodox and controversial moves of the eurozone crisis as “probably the most successful monetary policy measure undertaken in recent times”. Pressure in Britain Over What to Do With Bailed-Out Banks (DealBook) “As we move closer to an election, the share prices of R.B.S. and Lloyds will become more scrutinized,” said Peter Hahn, a banking professor at the Cass Business School in London. “Whoever is in government, selling shares in these banks will be a top priority.” ... The British government’s quandary over the banks stands in contrast with the experience of the United States Treasury Department, which reduced the government’s stakes in the big banks more quickly. Criminal Cases Loom in Rate Rigging (WSJ) U.S. and British authorities are preparing to bring criminal charges against former employees of Barclays for their alleged roles trying to manipulate benchmark interest rates, according to people familiar with the plans, marking an escalation of a global investigation now entering its sixth year. The charges are likely to be filed this summer, these people said, roughly a year after the big British bank became the first institution to settle over allegations that it attempted to rig the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and other widely used financial benchmarks. NSA taps in to user data of Facebook, Apple, Google and others, secret files reveal (Guardian) The files also reveal terrible PowerPoint skills. ‘Hey, gals – be a ho!’: Pimps’ lawyer hails great pay, benefits (NYP) “I’m trying to find a job myself that pays me 10 grand a week,” defense lawyer Howard Greenberg said as summations began in the Manhattan Criminal Court trial of Vincent George Sr. and Jr., admitted father-and-son pimps. “One wonders in this economy if a girl can make up to 10 grand a week . . . Why more women don’t do it, I don’t know,” the lawyer said, arguing that there is no proof that the Georges’ pampered staff of five hookers was forced to do anything. The Georges admit they’re pimps. But they insist that they’re really nice pimps and that their stable of five women commuted happily, six nights a week, from their employer-provided houses in Allentown, Pa., to the bars of fancy Midtown hotels, where they’d hand out “masseuse” cards to randy male tourists. “The girls wanted for nothing. There was maternity leave — can you imagine that? In short, the benefits package was great,” Greenberg said. S&P cuts outlook on Brazil sovereign rating (FT) S&P said slow economic growth, expansionary fiscal policy that was likely to lead to an increase in the government’s debt burden, and “ambiguous policy signals” in decision-making were among the factors behind the surprise move. “The negative outlook reflects the at least one-in-three probability that a rising government debt burden and erosion of macroeconomic stability could lead to a downgrade of Brazil over the next two years,” the agency said. Japan's Pension Fund to Buy More Stocks (WSJ) The Government Pension Investment Fund, at a joint news conference with Japan's welfare ministry, said it has raised its target portfolio allocation of domestic stocks to 12% from the current 11%. The fund also said it would increase its allocation of overseas assets and cut back on low-yielding Japanese bonds. The GPIF is the world's largest public pension with ¥112 trillion yen ($1.16 trillion) in assets. It is closely watched by many investors for hints about potential portfolio rebalancing, which could have broad implications for financial markets. Record outflows from US junk bond funds (FT) US high-yield funds saw a record $4.63bn in outflows for the week ending on Wednesday, according to Lipper. Interest rate volatility has surged in recent weeks since benchmark Treasury yields have risen sharply, with selling spilling over into other key areas of the bond market. As exchange traded fund providers and mutual funds face redemptions, they are forced to sell more of their holdings, putting further pressure on prices. “We are definitely worried that the market is in a cycle where selling of bonds begets more selling,” said Steven Boyd, principal at Halyard Asset Management. Pimco Defends $8.5 Billion BofA Mortgage Accord (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp.’s $8.5 billion mortgage-bond settlement is “outstanding” for investors, said a Pacific Investment Management Co. executive, who defended the deal against opposition. The settlement was reached after an investor group that included Pimco and BlackRock Inc. (BLK) at first demanded $12 billion, eventually coming down to a “take or leave it” offer of $8.5 billion, Kent Smith, an executive vice president at Pimco who helped negotiate the agreement, testified yesterday. “It’s an outstanding deal, and it’s in the best interest of our clients to support it,” Smith said. Smith was the first witness to testify in a trial over the agreement, which is being considered by Justice Barbara Kapnick of New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Forest braces for third bout with Icahn (Reuters) Forest Laboratories Inc is trying to avert yet another bitter proxy battle with billionaire investor Carl Icahn ahead of its annual investor meeting this summer, according to two sources familiar with the situation. ... Last year's proxy battle, for example, ended with just one of Icahn's four nominees being elected to the board - Pierre Legault, the former chief financial officer of OSI Pharma. Legault has since distanced himself from Icahn, telling people that he didn't know the investor well and wasn't "his guy", one of the sources said. Bono Sings to Warren Buffett (CNBC) "Home on the Range"; there is video. Russia's Vladimir Putin and wife Lyudmiladivorce (BBC) "It was a joint decision: we hardly see each other, each of us has our own life", Mr Putin said. Mrs Putin had rarely been seen in public in recent months, prompting much speculation in Russian media. She is known to dislike publicity, and told the TV reporter that flying was difficult for her. "Vladimir Vladimirovich is completely drowned in work," she said.

WilburRossChina

Opening Bell: 8.3.18

Jobs!; Trade war!; Tesla!; Vagina beer!; and more!

Opening Bell: 12.17.12

SAC E-Mails Show Steve Cohen Consulted on Key Dell Trade (Bloomberg) Two days before Dell Inc. was set to report second-quarter 2008 earnings, Jon Horvath, a technology analyst at SAC Capital Advisors LP, e-mailed his boss Michael S. Steinberg and another portfolio manager to warn that the computer maker would miss earnings estimates. “I have a 2nd hand read from someone at the company,” Horvath began the Aug. 26 message, which provided details on gross margins, expenditures and revenue. “Please keep to yourself as obviously not well known.” Steinberg, a 15-year veteran of the hedge fund founded by billionaire Steven A. Cohen, responded: “Yes normally we would never divulge data like this, so please be discreet. Thanks.” The e-mails indicate Steinberg, the longest-serving SAC employee linked to the U.S. insider-trading probe, discussed the Dell trade with Cohen. While neither has been accused of any wrongdoing, the messages were admitted as evidence at the New York insider-trading trial of two hedge-fund managers last week after a judge ruled they supported prosecutor claims that Steinberg should be considered an unindicted co-conspirator. AIG To Sell Life Insurer Stake (WSJ) AIG will sell its stake in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd., raising as much as $6.5 billion in what could be the second-largest deal in Asia this year. Completion of the sale will mark another step forward for AIG, which is shedding noncore assets, as it seeks to repay its debt to the U.S. government, which took over the company in a $182 billion bailout in 2008. A Shadow Over Banks As UBS Nears Libor Deal (WSJ) The Swiss bank is set to agree as soon as this week to pay roughly $1.5 billion to settle allegations of wrongdoing related to benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, say people close to the talks. So far, UBS has agreed in principle with the U.S. Justice Department that a company unit in Japan will plead guilty to a criminal charge, according to a person familiar with the tentative deal. The Zurich-based parent will pay the fine in return for a deal that lets it avoid criminal prosecution. Criminal charges against individuals are expected to be filed in tandem with the settlement, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. The pursuit of criminal charges and the higher-than-expected fine are ominous signs for more than a dozen financial firms still under investigation. "There's no panic—yet," says someone close to one of the banks in the sprawling probe. Moody’s Gets No Respect as Bonds Shun 56% of Country Ratings (Bloomberg) The global bond market disagreed with Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s more often than not this year when the companies told investors that governments were becoming safer or more risky. Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of the 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974. This year, investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by S&P. Economy Poised To Nudge Ahead In 2013 (WSJ) So that's nice. Boehner Opens the Door to Tax Hikes on the Wealthy (Reuters) U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's offer to accept a tax rate increase for the wealthiest Americans knocks down a key Republican road block to a deal resolving the year-end "fiscal cliff." The question now boils down to what President Barack Obama offers in return. Such major questions, still unanswered so close to the end of the year suggest, however, that no spending and tax agreement is imminent. A source familiar with the Obama-Boehner talks confirmed that Boehner proposed extending low tax rates for everyone who has less than $1 million in net annual income, meaning tax rates would rise on all above that line. Actor Depardieu Hits Back at French PM Over Taxes (CNBC) Actor Gerard Depardieu, accused by French government leaders of trying to dodge taxes by buying a house over the border in Belgium, retorted that he was leaving because "success" was now being punished in his homeland. A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old Depardieu is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country after tax increases by Socialist President Francois Hollande. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described Depardieu's behaviour as "pathetic" and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt. "Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?" Depardieu said in a letter distributed to the media. "I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said. [...] The "Cyrano de Bergerac" star recently bought a house in Nechin, a Belgian village a short walk from the border with France, where 27 percent of residents are French nationals, and put up his sumptuous Parisian home up for sale. Depardieu, who has also inquired about procedures for acquiring Belgian residency, said he was handing in his passport and social security card. Singapore Establishment Challenged by Carson Block on Olam (Bloomberg) When Carson Block likened Olam International Ltd. to fraud-ridden Enron Corp., he challenged more than the accounting of the Singapore-based commodities firm. He also took on Temasek Holdings Pte, the government-owned investment company whose money has helped build the city-state into a corporate dynamo known as Singapore Inc. Temasek is Olam’s second-largest shareholder, with a 16 percent stake that has lost more than $100 million in value since Nov. 19, when Block’s Muddy Waters LLC first questioned the validity of the company’s finances and said it was betting against the stock. Temasek is also the biggest shareholder in many of the country’s best-known companies, including DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Southeast Asia’s largest bank, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. “Carson Block is putting his whole reputation on this one,” said Low Chee Keong, associate professor of corporate law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “He’s taking on the Singapore government, Singapore Inc. here.” UN court orders immediate release of Argentine ship seized by hedge funder Paul Singer over unpaid debt (AP) A United Nations court ordered the immediate release Saturday of an Argentine navy training ship held in Ghana two months ago at the request of an American hedge fund. The ARA Libertad was held Oct. 2 in the port of Tema as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from Argentina's economic crisis a decade ago. Argentina appealed to the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the ship's release, arguing that as a warship the Libertad is immune from being seized. In an expedited ruling, the court ordered that Ghana "forthwith and unconditionally release the frigate ARA Libertad" and ensure the ship and its crew can leave Ghanaian waters. It also ordered that the vessel should be resupplied as needed. Detaining the ship was "a source of conflict that may endanger friendly relations among states," the court said. The ruling leaves untouched the parties' rights to seek further international arbitration on the matter. Debt Loads Climb In Buyout Deals (WSJ) Private-equity firms are using almost as much debt to fund acquisitions as they did before the financial crisis, as return-hungry investors rush to buy bonds and loans backing those takeovers. The rise in borrowed money, or leverage, heralds the possibility of juicy returns for buyout groups. Ominously, the surge also brings back memories of the last credit binge around six years ago, which saddled dozens of companies with huge levels of debt. Berlusconi's Love Life Lost in Translation (CNBC) Global media reports that the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced his engagement to his 28-year-old girlfriend on one of his TV Channels on Sunday, have been dismissed by native Italians who say Berlusconi has been mis-translated. Various newspapers have reported that Berlusconi is to get married for the third time, when in fact he announced that he is in love and in a relationship...Professor of Modern Italian History at University College London (UCL), John Foot, told CNBC that Pascale is a"girlfriend, nothing more." "In Italy the phrase 'Mi sono fidanzato' usually means 'I have a girlfriend or boyfriend' and not 'I am engaged to be married'. This can cause confusion abroad but is pretty clear in the Italian context," he told CNBC. Twinkies again by spring? It could happen (NBC) It’s not even Christmas, but Twinkies fans may be able to start looking forward to an Easter present. Bankrupt Hostess Brands has received a number of bids from companies interested in buying the maker of Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder bread, including retail heavyweights such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co, Bloomberg News reported Friday, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter...Anthony Michael Sabino, a bankruptcy attorney and a professor at St. John's University, said bankruptcy judge Robert Drain was motivated to move quickly. Bidding will likely take place by early January, since the assets — if not the treats themselves — could become stale. “I think this will move a at a fairly decent pace. He knows what’s at stake here.

Opening Bell: 05.14.12

JPMorgan Loss Claims Official Who Oversaw Trading Unit (NYTimes) The $2 billion trading loss at JPMorgan Chase will claim its first casualty among top officials at the bank as early as Monday, with chief executive Jamie Dimon set to accept the resignation of the executive who oversaw the trade, Ina R. Drew. Ms. Drew, a 55-year-old banker who has worked at the company for three decades and serves as chief investment officer, had repeatedly offered to resign since the scale of the loss became apparent in late April, but Mr. Dimon had held off until now on accepting it, several JPMorgan Chase executives said. Two traders who worked for Ms. Drew also planned to resign, JPMorgan Chase officials said. Her exit would mark a stunning fall from grace for one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, as well as a trusted lieutenant of Mr. Dimon...Former senior-level executives at JPMorgan said it was a shame that Ms. Drew has ended up suffering much of the fallout from the soured trade. They said that Thursday’s announcement of the $2 billion loss was the first real misstep that Ms. Drew has had and said that the position was not meant to drum up bigger profits for the bank, but rather to ensure that JPMorgan could continue to hold lending positions in Europe. “This is killing her,” a former JP Morgan executive said, adding “in banking there are very large knives.” Jamie Dimon: Trading Losses Are Not Life-Threatening (CNBC) “This is a stupid thing that we should never have done but we’re still going to earn a lot of money this quarter so it isn’t like the company is jeopardized,” he said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet with Press.” “We hurt ourselves and our credibility, yes — and that you’ve got to fully expect and pay the price for that.” Yahoo’s Thompson Out Amid Inquiry; Levinsohn Is Interim CEO (Bloomberg, earlier) Thompson, 54, was brought on to orchestrate a turnaround after Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. lured users and advertising dollars. Thompson’s undoing stems from erroneous biographical references to him as holding a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Stonehill College. A former EBay Inc. (EBAY) executive, he earned a degree in accounting from the Easton, Massachusetts- based school, and the information is correctly listed in EBay regulatory filings and some Yahoo press releases. The incorrect degree showed up in Yahoo’s April 27 10-K filing, as well as on the company’s website. As part of the board changes, Daniel Loeb, chief executive officer of Third Point, joins as a director along with Harry Wilson and Michael Wolf. A fourth nominee, Jeffrey Zucker, said in today’s statement that he withdrew his nomination to allow a quick transition. Euro Officials Begin to Weigh Greek Exit (Bloomberg) Greek withdrawal “is not necessarily fatal, but it is not attractive,” European Central Bank Governing Council member Patrick Honohan said in Tallinn on May 12. An exit was “technically” possible yet would damage the euro, he said. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble reiterated in an interview in Sueddeutsche Zeitung that member states seeking to hold the line on austerity for Greece could not force the country to stay. LightSquared Moves Toward Bankruptcy Filing (WSJ) Hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone's LightSquared Inc. venture was preparing Sunday to file for bankruptcy protection after negotiations with lenders to avoid a potential debt default faltered, said people familiar with the matter. LightSquared and its lenders still have until 5 p.m. Monday to reach a deal that would keep the wireless-networking company out of bankruptcy court, and there were some indications over the weekend that a final decision hadn't yet been reached on its fate. Still, the two sides remained far apart, and people involved in the negotiations expected LightSquared to begin making bankruptcy preparations in earnest. Facebook cofounder living large in Singapore as he stiffs US for a possible $600M in taxes (NYP) Saverin is renouncing his US citizenship in favor of Singapore, the Southeast Asian city-state that has no capital-gains tax, where he has lived like royalty since 2009. The move already has saved him about $288 million in taxes, and will save him much more if he chooses to sell his $4 billion personal stake in Facebook, which goes public next week. “This pisses me off,” fellow tech-industry billionaire Mark Cuban spat on Twitter Friday upon hearing news of Saverin’s decision. Saverin’s spokesman has defended the move, claiming he has investments in the Far East, and Europe and the permanent move makes perfect sense. “Eduardo recently found it more practical to become a resident of Singapore since he plans to live there for an indefinite period of time,” Saverin’s spokesman told Bloomberg. JPMorgan Unit's London Staff May Go as Loss Prompts Exits (Bloomberg) The entire London staff of JPMorgan Chase’s chief investment office is at risk of dismissal as a $2 billion trading loss prompts the first executive departures as soon as this week, a person familiar with the situation said. The firm is examining whether anyone in the unit, which employs a few dozen people in London, sought to hide risks, said the person, who requested anonymity because the deliberations are private. In Wake Of JPMorgan Loss, Rivals Fret About New Rules, Downgrades (WSJ) Over the weekend, rival banks scurried to explain why they believe a similar trading loss couldn't happen at their firm. Some companies pointed to moves already taken to reduce risk and sell off volatile and opaque assets such as derivatives on credit indexes. In a statement, Citigroup "has a small amount of straight-forward economic hedges managed at the corporate center to mitigate our credit exposure, principally relating to consumer loans." About half of that total is in cash, with most of the rest in U.S. Treasury bonds and other conservative investments. At Morgan Stanley, the portfolio most similar to J.P. Morgan's investment office is a $32 billion "available for sale" portfolio. The portfolio primarily consists of easily traded U.S. Treasury and government agency securities. It doesn't hold any derivatives instruments, a person familiar with Morgan Stanley's operations said. Goldman Sachs has no similar unit to the one at J.P. Morgan that suffered the loss. Apple Founder Wozniak to Buy Facebook Regardless of Price (Bloomberg) “I would invest in Facebook,” he said in an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television. “I don’t care what the opening price is.” Missing: Stats on Crisis Convictions (WSJ) It is a question that has been asked time and again since the financial crisis: How many executives have been convicted of criminal wrongdoing related to the tumultuous events of 2008-2009? The Justice Department doesn't know the answer. That is because the department doesn't keep count of the numbers of board-level prosecutions. In a response earlier this month to a March request from Sen. Charles Grassley (R.,Iowa), the Justice Department said it doesn't hold information on defendants' business titles. "Consequently, we are unable to generate the [requested] comprehensive list" of Wall Street convictions stemming from the 2008 meltdown, the letter from the Department of Justice to Mr. Grassley said. Man Charged in Death Offers Victim's Foot for Deal (AP) A homeless man charged with killing and dismembering his friend says he can't remember much about the crime. But in a jailhouse interview, Leslie Sandoval told the Anderson Independent-Mail he remembers where he put the victim's missing left foot and is willing to tell a prosecutor if she will make him a deal. Sandoval says he went on a January drinking binge with Seth Foster. Foster's torso was found under an Anderson home, and his head, hands and right foot were found different places. Sandoval says he is confused about exactly what happened. But he disagrees with a coroner's finding he beat Foster and denies a claim from investigators that he confessed and gave them the knife used to dismember Foster.