Opening Bell: 7.14.20 - Dealbreaker

Sobering Economic Data From Europe, Asia Dash Hopes for Swift Recovery [WSJ]
The U.K. economy expanded just 1.8% in May compared with April, a month that saw the country’s deepest contraction on record, according to figures published Tuesday. The rebound was feebler than economists had predicted and output in Britain remains around a quarter below the level it had reached in February.
Singapore—among the first countries to report second-quarter gross domestic product figures—estimated its economy shrank in the period by an annualized 41.2%. While Singapore has been lauded for public-health policies that have largely contained infections, its economy nonetheless suffered from the collapse in global trade….
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said this month it expects the global economy to shrink 6% this year—or almost 8% if a resurgence in infections prompts governments to once again button down their economies.

Hedge fund manager Singh calls Trump's handling of coronavirus 'an incredible gift' [Reuters via Yahoo!]
"We simply never believed 'what happens in China stays in China,'" [Axon Capital co-founder Dinakar] Singh wrote in a letter to investors last week that was seen by Reuters. "Trump talking down COVID-19 risk gave investors an incredible gift -- it kept markets resilient much longer than they should have, and enabled us to ensure our portfolio was sensibly positioned…."
Axon, a 15-year-old hedge fund which oversees roughly $1 billion, gained 24.3% in the first half of the year, thanks to bets on technology giants, managed-care stocks and Japanese companies, according to the letter. In the last days Axon extended gains and is now up 30%.

Fed’s Williams says shift away from scandal-plagued, interest-rate benchmark in 2 years remains on track despite coronavirus [MarketWatch]
Williams called Libor, which is based on a survey of banks, an “unreliable reference rate” and noted that “term lending transactions based on Libor became even more scarce than usual” in the market turmoil in March at the start of the pandemic.
In contrast, the Fed’s favored replacement, SOFR, is based on actual transactions in the Treasury repo market and performed well during the crisis, he said.
“SOFR was the dog that didn’t bark or bite,” Williams said.

Oat-Milk Company Oatly Draws Investment From Blackstone-Led Group Including Oprah [WSJ]
Swedish oat-milk maker Oatly AB has sold a $200 million stake to a group led by private-equity giant Blackstone Group Inc. that includes Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, former Starbucks Corp. chief Howard Schultz and the entertainment company founded by Jay-Z.
The sale of the roughly 10% stake values Oatly at about $2 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

Ackman's blank check company raises IPO target to $4 billion [Reuters]
Pershing Square Tontine Holdings Ltd, the blank check company backed by billionaire investor Bill Ackman, has increased the size of its initial public offering by $1 billion to $4 billion, the largest ever IPO by a special purpose acquisition company…. In the filing, Ackman said the company will seek to acquire a venture capital-backed firm that he called a "mature unicorn" which has chosen to remain private.

Quibi wins round in mobile technology fight with rival [L.A. Times via Yahoo!]
Tech rival Eko had accused Quibi of infringing on a patent with a feature on its app called "turnstyle," and asked an L.A. federal court judge to block Quibi from using it. On Monday, Judge Christina A. Snyder denied the request for a preliminary injunction…. Activist hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. is funding Eko's lawsuit.

NYC Hedge Funds Angle for Work-From-Home Windfall on Their Taxes [Bloomberg]
Investment firms that pay the city’s unincorporated business tax -- a 4% levy that brought in more than $2 billion last year -- may be able to slash their bills because, for the first time, most of their income is being earned outside Manhattan….
Businesses paying the UBT come from every sector of the city’s economy, from construction and manufacturing to advertising and performing arts. But the securities and commodities industry paid almost 30% of partnership UBT revenue in 2016, according to the latest city data. That’s second only to legal businesses at 32%, and well ahead of the real estate sector at 9.2%.

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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.

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Opening Bell: 4.3.17

RBS rises like a phoenix from its ashes; Ackman has a sad; T Rex was a sensitive lover; and more.

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Opening Bell: 2.22.17

Ackman's latest letdown; hedge funds' love-hate relationship with Snap; Jenna Jameson's odd career turn; and more.

Opening Bell: 6.23.15

Ben Bernanke says keep Hamilton on 10 dollar bill; Ackman launches $1B bond; Short sellers are lonely; P. Diddy beats son's coach with a kettlebell; and more.

charles scharf

Opening Bell: 10.8.20

Charlie’s lament; Ackman SPAC-ing; TikTok twist; we couldn’t be more proud; and more!

Opening Bell: 5.19.16

Activist investors form lobbying group; Fed ready to go in June; Fresh from jail, Screech tells all to A.C. Slater; 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.

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Opening Bell: 6.27.17

More on the Biden-Ackman affair: “If I could, I’d punch you in the face”; Europe demands Google pony up $2.4 billion; Uber for poop; and more.