CBO Says Economy Could Take Nearly 10 Years to Catch Up After Coronavirus [WSJ]
The CBO said it has marked down its 2020-30 forecast for U.S. economic output by a cumulative $15.7 trillion, or 5.3%, relative to its January projections. Adjusted for inflation, the shortfall is estimated at $7.9 trillion, or 3% of cumulative gross domestic product…. The nonpartisan agency said last month it expects U.S. GDP to finish the year 5.6% lower than in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Ackman Scores Another Big Month [II]
The publicly traded hedge fund rose 8.7 percent for the month, giving the fund a year to date gain of 27.5 percent, according to a notice to investors Monday.

Supreme Court Upholds Puerto Rico Financial Oversight Board [AP via NYT]
The case stemmed from a constitutional challenge to the oversight board's composition led by hedge funds that invested in Puerto Rican bonds. A lower court ruled last year that board members were appointed in violation of the Constitution because they were not confirmed by the Senate…. In his opinion for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the board’s makeup is not controlled by the Constitution’s provision on appointments, but by a different provision giving Congress significant control over U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico.

U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs investors' bid to block Madoff trustee lawsuits [Reuters]
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a bid by major banks and companies including Koch Industries Inc to prevent a trustee chasing money for victims of imprisoned Ponzi scheme swindler Bernard Madoff from recouping funds that were transferred overseas….
The case centers on 88 lawsuits filed against Koch, controlled by the billionaire Charles Koch, HSBC Holdings Plc, UBS AG and other entities accused of receiving Madoff-linked money indirectly through offshore feeder funds that had directly invested with Madoff.

Templar Energy Bankruptcy Leaves Bank Lenders Deep Underwater [WSJ]
Private-equity-backed oil-and-gas company Templar Energy LLC filed for bankruptcy and said it expects Bank of America NA and other top-ranking lenders to recover at most 21 cents on the dollar of the $426 million they are owed.
The Oklahoma City-based company said Monday it plans to sell off its energy assets under an agreement with senior lenders. Backed by Ares Management LLC, Bain Capital LP and other investment firms, Templar is the latest energy-sector bankruptcy in which bank lenders backed by oil reserves might recover only a fraction of their claims.

Jim Cramer on Wall Street’s relation to George Floyd protests: ‘The market has no conscience’ [CNBC]
“Investors are simply trying to make money, and that’s why they’re crowding into the stay-at-home economy stocks,” the “Mad Money” host said, “because the stay-at-home economy just got a major extension for many investors [and] right or wrong, thoughtless or cerebral, it’s worth exploiting….”
“In the places where protests turned violent, it gives businesses another reason to shut down or keep their employees working remotely. From this stock market’s perspective, everything that happened this weekend means the stay-at-home economy will last longer than we thought….”
“Put it all together, and it’s not that the market is totally heartless, although it certainly has no heart,” Cramer said. “It’s that buyers are oblivious to the risk of purchasing stocks that have run and run and run some more.”

Brewery offers $20,000 to hike the Appalachian Trail, drink beer [UPI]
The winning applicant will be granted the "Chief Hiking Officer" title and be flown out to trail head in 2021 for a 2,200 mile hike….
The hiker, who would tackle the trail between May and September 2021, would be outfitted with equipment by the brewery, as well as being treated to "some big ol' beer parties along the way."

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Opening Bell: 8.23.17

Herbalife readies finishing move on Bill Ackman; Goldman plans finishing move on Volcker rule; firefighters feast on piglets they saved from fire; and more.

Opening Bell: 08.27.12

RBS May Be Bigger Libor Culprit Than Barclays, Says MP (Guardian) John Mann, a Labour MP on the Treasury select committee, said "City insiders" had suggested RBS's involvement may be "noticeably worse" than Barclays.' [...] Mann's comments came as a former RBS trader claimed that the bank's internal checks were so lax that anyone could change Libor rates. Court documents filed in Singapore show that Tan Chi Min, who is suing RBS for wrongful dismissal, claimed that in 2008 a trader for the bank, Will Hall, changed the Libor submission even though he was part of the Japanese yen swap desk in London. The papers show that Tan, who worked for RBS in Singapore, raised the issue at his disciplinary meeting last September, saying the bank's internal procedure in London seemed to be that "anyone can change Libor". Spain Expects to Tap About $75 Billion in Rescue Financing for Its Banks (NYT) Spain expects to use about 60 billion euros, or $75 billion, of the 100 billion euros of bank rescue financing offered by European finance ministers in June, according to the Spanish economy minister, Luis de Guindos. UK Investment Bankers Prefer Singapore (FT) The southeast-Asian city state has become the most favored location for investment bankers who are based in London, research by financial services recruitment firm Astbury Marsden shows. Of the 462 investment bankers that were asked, 31 percent said they would most like to work in Singapore. By comparison, only a fifth preferred New York and only 19 percent opted in favor of London. In the year before, 22 percent named London as their preferred location, underlining how the British capital has lost some appeal among investment bankers amid tighter regulation and a clampdown on bonuses. “A fast growing, low tax and bank friendly environment like Singapore stands as a perfect antidote to the comparatively high tax and anti-banker sentiment of London and New York,” said Mark Cameron, chief operating officer at Astbury Marsden. “Far more London-based bankers are now more willing and able to relocate the 6,700 miles to Singapore.” Another Madoff Name Nix (NYP) The second of Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff’s daughters-in-law is asking a court for permission to shed her now notorious married name. Deborah West Madoff, who started divorce proceedings against Bernie’s son Andrew back in 2008, has sought permission in Manhattan Supreme Court to revert to her maiden name. The couple have two children. She’s not the first in the family to do so: in 2010, her sister-in-law made a similar court application. Suits Mount In Rate Scandal (WSJ) It won't be easy for the plaintiffs to win in court even though financial institutions are likely to reach settlements with regulators in coming months totaling billions of dollars, according to people close to the Libor investigation. The plaintiffs must prove that banks successfully manipulated interest-rate benchmarks such as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and caused the plaintiffs to suffer a loss. Still, some investors and analysts are forecasting huge damages despite the legal hurdles. In a July report, Macquarie Research estimated that banks face potential legal liability of about $176 billion, based on the assumption that Libor was "understated" by 0.4 percentage points in 2008 and 2009. Carlyle Group marketed $25 million deal without license: Kuwaiti firm (AP) A Kuwaiti company suing the Carlyle Group over a $25 million investment that went bad is now accusing the private equity firm of marketing the deal without a license as it seeks to have its case heard in Kuwaiti courts. The latest claim by Kuwait's National Industries Group adds a new twist to its more than two-and-a-half year legal challenge to Carlyle, and could complicate the American company's relationships with other wealthy Mideast investors. NIG's lawsuit focuses on a Carlyle investment fund that was one of the earliest casualties of the financial crisis when it collapsed in 2008. The fund has been the subject of multiple lawsuits against Washington-based Carlyle. Couple in court for disturbing the peace for 'screaming, moaning and swearing during seven-hour sex romps five nights a week' (DM) Jessica Angel and Colin MacKenzie had been issued with an order requiring them to prevent ‘screaming, loud moaning, swearing and raised voices’ after police were called to their flat 20 times in just four months. However, following further complaints from neighbours, the couple were charged under the Environmental Protection Act. They face a £3,000 fine if convicted...Mr MacKenzie, 45, from Sturt, South Australia, said: ‘How can you live in a place where you can’t have sex? It’s ridiculous. Anyway, it’s mostly Jessie. The sex goes from four to seven hours, five nights a week. I’ll probably die of a heart attack – she’s almost killing me.’ German Official Opposes European Debt Purchases (NYT) The president of the German central bank said in an interview published Sunday that he remained staunchly opposed to government bond purchases by the European Central Bank, a position that could make it more difficult to deploy a weapon many economists believe is essential to saving the euro. But in a sign that the mood in Germany could be shifting, Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted a more dovish tone during a separate interview. She told members of her governing coalition to stop talking about Greece leaving the euro. “We are in a decisive phase in the battle against the euro zone debt crisis,” Ms. Merkel told ARD television. “Everyone should weigh their words very carefully.” Fed mulls open season on bond buys to help economy (Reuters) The Federal Reserve is considering a new approach to unconventional monetary policy that would give it more leeway to tailor the scale of its stimulus to changing economic winds. While fresh measures are not assured and the timing of any potential moves are still in question, some officials have said any new bond buying, or quantitative easing, could be open-ended, meaning it would not be bound by a fixed amount or time frame. "I am inclined to think that if the Fed decides on more QE it would be of the open-ended variety," said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan and a former Fed economist. BlackRock Bullish On Thai Bonds, Region’s Worst (Bloomberg) BlackRock is bullish on Thai bonds, Asia’s worst-performing in 2012, saying the central bank has room to ease monetary policy as a global slump cools demand for exports from Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. Former SC Gov. Mark Sanford to wed ex-mistress Maria Belen Chapur (NYDN) "Yes, we are engaged, and I'm both happy and excited for what that means," Sanford said in a statement obtained by CNN. "I have long expressed my feelings for her, she's a wonderful person. My closest friends have met and love her, and I look forward to introducing her to still many more that have yet to do so." The conservative Republican's political aspirations were dashed in 2009 when he disappeared from South Carolina for five days under the pretense that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. The father of four, who was once thought to be a potential 2012 presidential contender, later admitted that he was actually visiting Chapur, who he professed to be his "soul mate." "I've been unfaithful to my wife," Sanford said at the time. "I developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina."

Opening Bell: 6.1.16

Bets on Fed move this summer surge; N.Y. Mets owners reach revised deal with Madoff trustee; Divorced dad tries paying child support in pizza, court is cool with it; and more.

Photo: Getty Images

Opening Bell: 9.22.16

Yellen signals 2016 hike coming; Bill Gross is 'verklempt' after Fed decision; Australian hot dog and hamburger combination 'hamdog' coming to U.S.; and more.

Opening Bell: 12.21.12

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

Opening Bell: 11.6.15

Bill Gross 100% of rate hike in December; Goldman pulls out stops for junior bankers; Jim Cramer says he was a moron; "Battery Charge Dropped In Dildo Attack Case"; and more.

Opening Bell: 03.06.13

EU Fines Microsoft $732 Million (WSJ) The European Commission said it was imposing the fine after the U.S. software giant became the first company to break a voluntary agreement with regulators, which would have allowed at least 15 million consumers to pick alternatives to its Internet Explorer browser. The penalty is the latest episode in over a decade of wranglings between the EU and Microsoft, which has already seen the commission fine Microsoft €1.6 billion for failing to provide rivals with information at fair prices and for tying its media player to its operating system. Fed Holds Ground On Stress Tests (WSJ) The first component of the release, data on how banks will fare in an economic downturn, is slated for after U.S. stock markets close on Thursday. The second part, the Fed's response to buyback-and-dividend requests, is scheduled for publication a week later. Some executives warn that the delay could boost volatility in bank shares, as traders speculate on what the first round of results might mean for bank capital plans. Others warn of shareholder lawsuits if banks fail to disclose any information they receive, even informally, from regulators on the capital plans. Stress Tests Seen Boosting U.S. Bank Shareholder Payouts (Bloomberg) The six largest U.S. banks may return almost $41 billion to investors in the next 12 months, the most since 2007, as regulators conclude firms have amassed enough capital to withstand another economic shock. Lenders including Citigroup and Bank of America will buy back $26.4 billion in shares, up from $23.8 billion, according to the average estimate of three Wall Street analysts. An additional $14.5 billion will be paid out in dividends, $3.4 billion more than 2012, separate estimates show. The payouts are contingent on approval by the Federal Reserve. Forbes Hits Back at Saudi Prince Over Rich List (CNBC) A spat between Saudi billionaire Alwaleed Bin Talal and Forbes over the exact fortune of the prince has taken another bizarre twist. After the prince announced a severing of ties due to what he argued were flawed valuation methods, Forbes has now responded with an in-depth investigation, hitting back by describing his estimates as an "alternate reality". Forbes went on to say that the valuation of Kingdom Holding, the publicly traded company of Prince Alwaleed, gyrated for reasons "that, coincidentally, seem more tied to the Forbes billionaires list than fundamentals". In the lengthy piece published on Wednesday, the magazine also details its relationship with Prince Alwaleed since it began in 1988, recounting what it classified as "intermittent lobbying, cajoling and threatening" to influence his net worth listing over the years. AIG to Start Loan Investment Unit as Housing Rebounds (Bloomberg) AIG plans to buy loans backed by its United Guaranty Corp. unit, the largest seller of traditional private mortgage insurance last year, according to Donna DeMaio, 54, the unit’s chief executive officer. The debt will be held as long-term investments by AIG insurance companies. “You’re cutting the middle man out of the securitization process,” DeMaio said, referring to bonds that package home loans. The yield on an individual mortgage “is better than if you just bought the paper backed by the whole loan.” Two Hedgies Top The Field (NYP) Stephen Mandel and David Tepper earned more money for clients than any other hedge-fund manager in 2012, LCH Investments said. Mandel’s Lone Pine Capital made about $4.6 billion; Tepper’s Appaloosa Management made $3.3 billion. Traders Flee Asia Hedge Funds as Job Haven Turns Dead End (Bloomberg) Asian hedge-fund assets are 28 percent below their 2007 peak, according to data provider Eurekahedge Pte. Globally, money overseen by the funds increased 21 percent since 2007 to a new high of $2.3 trillion as of December, data from Chicago- based Hedge Fund Research Inc. show. A total of 296 Asian hedge funds liquidated in the two years to December, 33 more than the number that started. On a global basis, 1,839 new funds outnumber those that shut by 371, according to Eurekahedge. Ikea recalls cakes in 23 countries after sewage bacteria found (Telegraph) The furniture giant admitted on Tuesday that coliform bacteria had been found in two batches of almond cake from a supplier in Sweden. It comes after Chinese customs officials announced that they had destroyed a batch of 1,800 cakes after finding it contained high levels of coliforms which failed to meet hygiene standards. Coliforms, common bacteria which are found in faeces as well as soil and water, do not normally cause serious illness but are a sign of contamination which can indicate the presence of more harmful bacteria such as E.coli. It comes after Ikea recalled meatballs and sausages from 24 countries due to fears they could have been contaminated with horse meat. Oil Trader Ex-Wife Shouldn't Get Offshore Assets: Lawyers (Bloomberg) An oil trader’s ex-wife shouldn’t have any claim to properties held by offshore companies in which he invested as part of a 17.5 million-pound ($26.4 million) divorce settlement, lawyers said at a hearing in the U.K.’s highest court. The three Isle of Man-based companies, including Petrodel Resources Ltd., are “not relevant as a party to the litigation,” Tim Amos, the lawyer representing the companies, said today. The firms have asked the seven-judge panel of Britain’s Supreme Court to dismiss the wife’s claim. Yasmin Prest appealed an earlier ruling that denied her access to properties held and controlled by her ex-husband to cover part of the 2011 divorce settlement, which Michael Prest hasn’t paid, according to court documents at the U.K. top court. Her ex-husband isn’t a party to the litigation. ADP Says Companies in U.S. Added 198,000 Workers in February (Bloomberg) The 198,000 increase in employment followed a revised 215,000 gain the prior month that was more than initially estimated, figures from the Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Research Institute showed today. The median forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an advance of 170,000. Madoff Trustee ‘Unlikely’ to Win Merkin Suit, N.Y. Says (Bloomberg) The judge shouldn’t allow trustee Irving Picard to block the deal because “in the unlikely event” that Picard can win part of his suit, Merkin’s funds would be able to pay him, Schneiderman said in a filing with U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff yesterday. The attorney general made his filing saying Picard’s “unusual” request for an injunction -- to give him time to proof his own $500 million case -- required an additional response. Zoo shuts in panic as male and female escape from cage because cleaner forgot to lock the door (DM) A zoo in China was forced to close after two lions escaped from their unlocked cages. Riot police, snipers and zoo workers armed with tranquiliser guns worked to capture the ferocious animals after theyescaped at the zoo in Chongqing, south west China. According to reports, the lion and lioness were given free run of the zoo when a keeper who was cleaning their enclosure forgot to lock the gate. The zoo was completely evacuated following the escape at 8am. While the lionness was caught within the hour, the male was at large for almost four hours before he was recaptured. A zoo spokesman said: 'We found the female first and subdued her with a tranquiliser gun but the male took longer to find and bring back. 'They both recovered quickly and are no worse off for their adventure.' Officials have issued an apology to visitors for the panic caused. One said: 'You can't blame the lions. It was human error and they naturally took advantage of it.'

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.”