Opening Bell: 7.20.20 - Dealbreaker

‘Less Optimistic’ and ‘More Cautious’: Top C.E.O.s Fret as Virus Cases Rise [NYT]
“We will need to open up, but it has to be done safely and properly,” said Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase. “And if we make mistakes along the way or if situations change, we should adapt and recalibrate….”
“Most C.E.O.s today believe that until there is a more effective treatment or a vaccine, that work and life are not going to go back to normal,” said Julie Sweet, chief executive of Accenture.
Ms. Sweet said even in Europe, where the virus is largely under control, business leaders are anticipating flare-ups that could disrupt the economy again. “In Europe, we have clients saying, ‘We want you back,’ and in the next breath saying, ‘Of course, that will change,’” she said.

What Banks Tell Us About Covid-Era Business: ‘Everybody Is, Bluntly, Struggling’ [WSJ]
“Everybody is, bluntly, struggling,” Bill Demchak, chief executive officer of PNC Financial Services Group Inc., said on an earnings call Wednesday. “The generic corporate client we talk to, who’s otherwise open and doing business, is almost without exception down from what they would have expected going into the year and down from where they were last year….” In the second quarter, they saw some alarming things. One by one, bank executives warned that the worst of the coronavirus recession has yet to come. They said they no longer expect a quick snapback in economic activity or employment.

EU leaders show first signs of compromise on stimulus plan [Reuters]
Michel earlier urged the 27 leaders to achieve “mission impossible”, reminding them that more than 600,000 people had now died from COVID-19 around the world…. “We are not there yet, things can still fall apart. But it looks a bit more hopeful than at the times where I thought last night that it was over,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

Goldman Warns SEC Proposal Could Shroud Hedge-Fund Crowding [Bloomberg]
Goldman has tracked equity hedge-fund positioning quarterly since 2007. It said this change would cut the number of funds in its analysis to 59 from 822, and shrink equity assets covered to $815 billion from $1.2 trillion…. Goldman said the change would likely prompt alterations to the methodology for constructing its Hedge Fund VIP List, which is derived from the 13F data and contains 50 stocks that appear most frequently among the top 10 holdings within hedge-fund portfolios. The basket has outperformed the S&P 500 in 61% of quarters since 2001 with an average quarterly excess return of 57 basis points, the strategists said.

Bernanke and Yellen Refocus Blame on Hedge Funds [Bloomberg via Yahoo!]
“Uncertainty about the pandemic led hedge funds and others to scramble to raise cash by selling longer-term securities. The upsurge in the supply of longer-term securities, including Treasuries, was more than dealers and other market-makers could handle. Key financial markets, including for Treasury securities, experienced substantial volatility. To stabilize these markets, which like the repo market play a critical role in our financial system, the Fed purchased large quantities of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, again serving as market maker of last resort.”

Arthur Samberg, Founder of Hedge Fund Pequot, Dies at 79 [Bloomberg]
Samberg had a 40-year career as an investor, starting his first fund, Pequot Partners, while at money-management firm Dawson-Samberg Capital Management Inc. He spun off Pequot Capital -- named for a street address in Connecticut -- at the start of 1999, and by 2001 the firm had $15 billion in assets, making it the biggest hedge fund…. By May 2009, Samberg told investors he planned to liquidate his main hedge funds after an insider-trading investigation “cast a cloud” over the firm. A year later, Pequot and Samberg agreed to pay almost $28 million to settle regulatory claims they illegally tapped information from a Microsoft Corp. employee to bet on the software maker’s stock in 2001….
“It’s nothing you like to go to your grave with, and have your grandkids Google and find out about, but I was convinced at the time it was the right decision,” Samberg said in 2015 of the settlement.

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Opening Bell: 01.04.13

SEC Drops Case Against Ex-Berkshire Exec Sokol (Reuters) The U.S. securities regulator has decided not to take action against David Sokol, once considered a possible candidate for the top job at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Sokol's lawyer told Reuters. In 2011, Buffett said Sokol violated the company's insider trading rules to score a $3 million windfall profit on shares of U.S. chemicals maker Lubrizol, which rose by nearly a third after Berkshire Hathaway announced it would buy the company. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Sokol's investment in Lubrizol shortly after Sokol resigned from Berkshire Hathaway. Sokol's lawyer Barry Wm. Levine told Reuters late on Thursday that he was informed that the SEC had wrapped up its probe and decided not to take action against Sokol. "SEC has terminated its investigation and has concluded not to bring any proceedings against Sokol," said Levine, a lawyer at legal firm Dickstein Shapiro. Sokol has been "completely cleared" as there was no evidence against his client, Levine said. Cohen’s SAC Tops Most Profitable List Amid Insider Probes (Bloomberg) SAC Capital International, Cohen’s flagship fund, was the world’s most-profitable hedge fund in the first 10 months of 2012, earning $789.5 million for Cohen, 56, and his managers, according to Bloomberg Markets’ annual ranking of hedge funds...SAC Capital International is No. 1 not because of performance; it ties for No. 86 on that measure, with a 10 percent return in the Markets ranking of the 100 top-performing funds. Rather, the fund earned the most money because Cohen charges some of the highest fees on Wall Street. While most funds impose a 1 to 2 percent management fee and then take 15 to 20 percent of the profits, Cohen levies 3 percent and as much as 50 percent, according to investors. Geithner's Planned Departure Puts Obama In A Tough Spot (Reuters) The Treasury Department said Geithner would stick to his previously announced schedule to stay until sometime around the Jan. 21 inauguration. Obama chose Geithner to lead the just-ended negotiations with Congress to avert the Dec. 31 fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes that threatened to push the economy back into recession. But the deal, which preserved most of the Bush-era tax breaks for Americans, sets up a series of crucial fiscal deadlines by delaying automatic spending cuts until March 1 and not increasing the government's borrowing limit. That puts Obama in the tough spot of nominating another Treasury secretary and asking the Senate to approve his choice when lawmakers are in the middle of another budget battle. Egan Jones Says Further US Downgrades Unlikely (CNBC) "This latest round (of negotiations) indicates a sign of health. You have a major ideological clash going on in Congress and many people uncomfortable with it, but it is part of democracy. The more positive light is that we actually have a deal and can move forward," Sean Egan, managing director of Egan-Jones told CNBC on Friday. "We've gotten a lot more comfortable about the U.S. and we probably won't take additional negative actions for the foreseeable future," he added. Almost All of Wall Street Got 2012 Market Calls Wrong (Bloomberg) From John Paulson’s call for a collapse in Europe to Morgan Stanley’s warning that U.S. stocks would decline, Wall Street got little right in its prognosis for the year just ended. Paulson, who manages $19 billion in hedge funds, said the euro would fall apart and bet against the region’s debt. Morgan Stanley predicted the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index would lose 7 percent and Credit Suisse foresaw wider swings in equity prices. All of them proved wrong last year and investors would have done better listening to Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, who said the real risk was being too pessimistic. The ill-timed advice shows that even the largest banks and most-successful investors failed to anticipate how government actions would influence markets. Unprecedented central bank stimulus in the U.S. and Europe sparked a 16 percent gain in the S&P 500 including dividends, led to a 23 percent drop in the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, paid investors in Greek debt 78 percent and gave Treasuries a 2.2 percent return even after Warren Buffett called bonds “dangerous.” Fed Divided Over Bond Buys (WSJ) A new fault line has opened up at the Federal Reserve over how long to continue bond-buying programs aimed at spurring stronger economic growth. Minutes released Thursday of the Fed's Dec. 11-12 policy meeting showed that officials were divided. Some wanted to continue the programs through the end of 2013, others wanted to end them well before then and a minority wanted to halt the programs right away. Swiss Bank Pleads Guilty In Probe (WSJ) In the latest blow to Switzerland's centuries-old banking practices, the country's oldest bank pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge in the U.S. on Thursday and admitted that it helped wealthy Americans for years avoid tens of millions of dollars in taxes by hiding their income from secret accounts abroad. Wegelin & Co., founded in 1741, is the latest Swiss bank to reach a deal with U.S. prosecutors as they crack down on Americans who kept their money in secret accounts overseas and the entities which helped them. Three Wegelin bankers also were charged criminally in the U.S. last year. Subway worker tells customer to 'fight me like a man,' during confrontation over ketchup (WFTV) Luis Martinez said he stopped by a Subway shop in a Walmart on South Semoran Boulevard late Tuesday night to get something to eat. He said he ordered a Philly cheese steak the way he always does. "American cheese, onions and ketchup," said Martinez. Lawrence Ordone was working behind the counter. "He wants ketchup on the Philly cheese steak and I have never put -- we don't even have ketchup at Subway -- I've never put ketchup on anybody's sandwich," said Ordone. Martinez said he didn't want the sandwich without the ketchup and that a man next to him in line offered to buy the sandwich. Ordone said that Martinez mouthed off at the man. Martinez denied saying anything, but neither he or Ordone disputed what they said happened next. "That's when I flew off the handle," said Ordone. "He shoved a chair to the side, like knocked it down to come at me, and I said, 'This is going to be serious,'" said Martinez. "I said, 'Let's go, fight me like a man,'" said Ordone. "I was scared. Next thing, I'm thinking a gun's going to come out," said Martinez. Ordone said he blocked the customer so he couldn't get out. "He threatened to kill me in front of my wife," said Martinez. Martinez called 911, but by the time police got there the Subway worker had already left. Ordone said he was fired from his job Wednesday, and that he is baffled the confrontation started over something as simple as ketchup. "There's ketchup three aisles down. You can go buy your own ketchup, and I promise to God, you can put as much as you want on it and nobody's going to say nothing," said Ordone. Economy Adds 155,000 Jobs (WSJ) Rebuilding following superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October, likely added to job growth last month. Nationally, employment in the construction sector advanced by 30,000 jobs. Meanwhile, manufacturing payrolls increased by 25,000 and health-care jobs grew by 45,000. JPMorgan Faces Sanction for Refusing to Provide Madoff Documents (Bloomberg) The Treasury Department’s inspector general has threatened to punish JPMorgan Chase for failing to turn over documents to regulators investigating the bank’s ties to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Inspector General Eric Thorson gave the largest U.S. bank a Jan. 11 deadline to cooperate with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency probe or risk sanctions for impeding the agency’s oversight. JPMorgan, according to the Dec. 21 letter, contends the information is protected by attorney-client privilege. Rich Catch a Break With Budget Deal Providing Deductions (Bloomberg) “The increases in taxes and limits to deductions are more favorable than expected,” said Christopher Zander, partner and head of wealth planning at Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR)’s wealth management unit. “They could have been worse for high net-worth taxpayers.” Regulators to ease up on banks to get credit flowing (Reuters) Banks will get more time to build up cash buffers to protect against market shocks under a rule change that could help free up credit for struggling economies, a European regulatory source said. The Basel Committee, made up of banking supervisors from nearly 30 countries, is expected to announce the revision on Sunday to its "liquidity coverage" ratio or LCR, part of efforts to make banks less likely to need taxpayer help again in a crisis. The change comes after heavy pressure from banks and some regulators, who feared Basel's original version would suck up too much liquidity at a time when ailing economies are badly in need of a ready supply of credit to finance growth. 'Stripper' arrested after performance art leads to ruckus in Hallandale (SS) According to police and witnesses, Mena, 25, was first spotted standing and yelling in the middle of A1A outside her condo building along the 1800 block of South Ocean Drive about 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday. Noel von Kauffman, 40, said he was walking along the street when he noticed Mena trying to direct traffic while wearing a tank-top, cut-off jean shorts and tall boots...At some point, Mena picked up a traffic cone and threw it at a car driven by Dieter Heinrich, 49, of Dania Beach, according to an arrest report. The cone broke the car's side mirror, causing about $300 in damages, the report indicated. When Heinrich got out of his car, Mena allegedly spat in his face. Von Kauffman said he jumped in to help Heinrich, who had children in the back seat of his car. Mena scratched von Kauffman's wrist as the two men tried to restrain her and move her away from the busy roadway, according to the police report. After pinning her to the ground, von Kauffman said the woman first tried to say the incident was part of a television show and that everything was being caught on camera. Then she claimed she was a federal agent. Then she said she was friends with Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper and everyone involved would be in trouble, von Kauffman said.

Opening Bell: 03.07.13

Fed's Fisher Pins Slow Growth on Politicians (WSJ) Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher on Wednesday blamed both major U.S. political parties for a "horrid" political climate in Washington, and said monetary policy alone can't drive the economy. "We provided the fuel for economic recovery," Mr. Fisher said of the central bank, describing the Fed's stimulus as "very high-octane, dirt-cheap gasoline." But he said that neither Republican nor Democratic politicians in Washington have done their part by putting policies in place that spur the private sector "to take the cheap fuel that we have provided and step on the accelerator." Banks Said to Weigh Defying Fed With Dividend Disclosures (Bloomberg) The largest U.S. banks are weighing whether to disregard a Federal Reserve request and announce their dividend plans shortly after the central bank’s stress tests are released, people with knowledge of the process said. The Fed has asked 18 firms, including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, to wait until next week, even though the lenders will get preliminary word today about whether their capital plans were approved. Bank executives are concerned that investors could be confused and are considering whether securities laws may require prompt disclosure of their plans for dividends and share repurchases, the people said. Paulson Gold Fund Down 18% as Metal’s Slump Foils Rebound (Bloomberg) John Paulson posted an 18 percent decline in his Gold Fund last month as a slump in the metal, after more than a decade of gains, undermined efforts by the billionaire hedge-fund manager to rebound from two years of losses in some strategies. The $900 million Gold Fund, which invests in bullion- related equities and derivatives, is down 26 percent this year, Paulson & Co. said yesterday in a client update obtained by Bloomberg News. The firm’s Advantage funds also fell in February after the metal and related stocks weakened as signs of economic optimism curbed gold demand. “Despite the volatility and drawdown of our gold equity positions, we believe in the long-term outlook for these positions as quantitative easing programs continue around the world, credit expands in the United States, and gold equities continue to trade at a significant discount” to historical average valuations, the hedge fund said in a letter sent yesterday to investors, which was obtained by Bloomberg News. Carl Icahn Rachets Up Dell Fight (WSJ) In a letter released by Dell Thursday, Mr. Icahn said he has a "substantial" position in the company, and asked Dell to pay a per-share dividend of $9 if the deal is voted down by shareholders. He said that by his calculations, that transaction would be superior to the current going-private offer, citing a "stub" value of $13.81 a share which, combined with the special dividend, represents a 67% premium to the current $13.65 per-share offer price. Dell 'Welcomes' Carl Icahn to Go-Shop Process (CNBC) Dell on Thursday said it welcomed Carl Icahn, who has built up a 100 million share stake in the company, and other interested parties as the computer maker seeks to go private. The special committee appointed by the board said it was conducting a "robust go-shop process" and was looking at other alternatives after a $24.4 billion buyout led by founder Michael Dell faced opposition from some shareholders. Bad-News Bears Crash The Party (WSJ) For all their conviction, the bears realize it may be awhile before their dark predictions come true. "Unfortunately, I am bearish and I have been wrong," said Samer Nsouli, chief investment officer at Lyford Group International, a hedge fund, who argues that recent weakness in copper and oil is a portent of a global slowdown. "Make no mistake, it will end in tears. The eternal question is when." Lions Maul Two To Death In Kariba (Herald) Two people were yesterday mauled to death by lions in Mahombekombe suburb in the resort town of Kariba. Sources say the man only identified as Musinje and the woman Sharai Mawera, were attacked while spending time in a bushy area with the man managing to escape, leaving the woman behind. The man went on to report the case to police who, with the assistance of officers from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, went in search of the lions. During the search they found an arm belonging to a man with investigations pointing to the lions having made a kill the previous night. That, the sources say, could have been the reason the lions did not completely eat the woman. BofA Times An Options Trade Well (WSJ) Bank of America's trading desk last June purchased options to buy 150,000 shares of Constellation Brands, an aggressive wager that the wine-and-beer seller's shares would rise, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of options-market data and of quarterly regulatory filings made by institutional investors. The trade helped push the volume in thinly traded Constellation options that day to more than 13 times the previous 30 days' daily average, the options data show. A week later, Constellation announced a pact to buy a Mexican beer maker out of a joint venture that imports Corona Extra and other beers into the U.S. market. Bank of America led a duo of banks that financed the $1.85 billion deal. Constellation shares soared 24% on June 29, the day the deal was made public, and Bank of America generated an estimated paper profit of more than $1 million from the options trading, the options-market data indicate. China Imitates Singer (NYP) Paul Singer’s battle with Argentina over defaulted debt is beginning to ripple through the bond world. Creditors looking to force deadbeat countries to pay up are turning to the controversial legal argument Singer used to press his case against the South American country in the US courts. On Monday, China’s Ex-Im Bank, which has an unpaid judgment worth $32 million against Grenada, sued the tiny Caribbean country in New York federal court to get its money back. China wheeled out the same “equal treatment” argument that Singer’s Elliott Management used against Argentina, and which was recently upheld at the appeals level for the first time in the US. China’s move marks the first time a creditor other than Singer and his cohorts have tested the maneuver in the US. Obama Tries Charm Offensive to Woo Republicans on Deficit (Bloomberg) The president broke bread last night with a dozen Republican senators, hosting a dinner at a luxury Washington hotel near the White House. Next week, he’ll visit Capitol Hill to meet separately with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Obama has also spoken by telephone with at least a half- dozen Republican lawmakers over the past few days about the budget and other priorities of his second term, including a rewrite of immigration laws and controlling gun violence. “There have been some problems, but we’re all adults and you just have to put the country ahead of party and you’ll be fine,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who helped organize the dinner, said before the meal. The increased outreach marks a shift in strategy for the White House, amid signs the president’s poll numbers are falling after he and Republicans were unable to avert the across-the- board spending cuts that took effect March 1. Jobless Claims in U.S. Unexpectedly Fall to a Six-Week Low (Bloomberg) First-time jobless claims unexpectedly fell by 7,000 to 340,000 in the week ended March 2, the lowest since the period ended Jan. 19, according to data today from the Labor Department in Washington. The median forecast of 50 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 355,000. The four-week average dropped to a five-year low. JC Penney Board Can’t Be 'Delusional': Ex-CEO (CNBC) Former JC Penney CEO Allen Questrom told CNBC on Wednesday that the company's board of directors is wrong in thinking the struggling retailer can change its fortunes under current boss Ron Johnson. "The board has to take action. They can't be delusional like Ron Johnson is," Questrom said on "Fast Money Halftime Report." "This has been going on long enough. You can't say you're going to make your numbers for the year and then drop a billion dollars." Questrom, who has watched from afar as Penney's sales and stock have suffered, told CNBC that directors needed to act quickly. "If they think if it all of a sudden going to turn itself around, there is no way they can have reliable information – because Ron is not a source for that," he said. "The sooner they act, the better." 1 in 10 Yale students have engaged in prostitution, 3% have had sex with an animal (NYDN) Sexologist Dr. Jill McDevitt hosted the sex workshop session where around 55 students used their cellphones to answer questions about sex. The results were then published in real time on a screen. McDevitt, who also owns the Feminique sex store in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said the results showed "you can't have assumptions about people's backgrounds." Student Giuliana Berry, who hosted the event, told Campus Reform the workshop - part of Yale's Sex Weekend - aimed to increase understanding and compassion for people who indulged in "fringe sexual practices."

Opening Bell: 10.01.12

British Banks Face Heat From On High (WSJ) The Right Reverend Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, is grilling top bankers as part of a new parliamentary inquiry into "banking standards" that represents the U.K. government's latest attempt to shake up the industry. The inquiry was established in July on the heels of news that several banks allegedly sought to rig interest rates such as the London interbank lending rate, known as Libor. Bishop Welby, a former oil executive who sits in Britain's House of Lords, has joined nine other lawmakers in assembling a report that will consider new rules on everything from corporate governance to conflicts of interest. The inquiry also involves a series of public hearings already under way. Sitting in a castle in his diocese in northern England, Bishop Welby said the inquiry isn't about digging into the details of banks' alleged failings in the Libor scandal and other matters. Rather, it is an attempt to determine more broadly the future role of the industry. "It's an existential question," he said. "It's about why the bankingindustry is here." Spain To Borrow $267 Billion Of Debt Amid Rescue Pressure (Bloomberg) Spain’s debt will widen to 90.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 as the state absorbs the cost of bailing out its banks, the power system and euro-region partners Greece, Ireland and Portugal. This year’s budget deficit will be 7.4 percent of economic output, Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro said at a press conference. Spain’s 6.3 percent target will be met because it can exclude the cost of the bank rescue, he said. Euro Leaders Face October of Unrest After ECB’s September Rally (Bloomberg) With the first of three summit meetings that European Union President Herman Van Rompuy has called “crucial” taking place in Brussels on Oct. 18-19, investor sentiment toward the euro area that surged in September is on the wane. “People are beginning to look at this in a more sober way” after the ECB bond-buying plan and a German high-court decision releasing bailout financing spurred optimism over the past month, Clemens Fuest, an economist at Oxford University’s Said Business School, said in an interview yesterday. October, which marks the third anniversary of the debt crisis, will showcase euro-area leaders fighting out their differences. The discord underscores the inadequacy so far of ECB President Mario Draghi’s bid to calm the crisis through a pledge on sovereign-debt purchases. Graduates Turn Away From Wall Street (FT) MBA statistics show a steady decline in the number of graduates taking jobs at investment banks. The Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania, which bankers consider the “conveyor belt of Wall Street”, sent 16.6 percent of its class to investment banks in 2011 compared with more than one in four in 2008. The pattern is similar at other large business schools. “The number of students going into financial services has remained steady but what’s changed has been the types of roles,” said Maryellen Lamb, director of MBA career management at Wharton. “We’ve seen more opportunity for students in private equity and hedge fund roles.” Yield hunt pushes funds into CLOs, CDOs (Reuters) Fund managers are increasingly eyeing riskier exotic assets, some of which haven't been in fashion since the financial crisis, as yields on traditional investments get close to rock bottom. Returns from investments in "junk" bonds, government guaranteed mortgage securities and even some battered euro-zone debt are plunging in the wake of global central bank policies intended to suppress borrowing costs. In particular, the Federal Reserve's latest move to juice the U.S. economy by purchasing $40 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities every month is forcing some money managers who had previously been feasting on those securities to get more creative. The only problem is they may be getting out of their comfort zones and taking on too much risk. "I would not be surprised if some managers are reaching outside of their expertise for a few extra basis points," said Bonnie Baha, a portfolio manager for DoubleLine's Global Developed Credit strategy. Arnold Schwarzenegger 60 minutes interview video: admits habit of keeping secrets, affairs (CNN) While he did not specify how many affairs he'd had before Shriver filed for divorce in July 2011, Schwarzenegger admits two women he was involved with include "Red Sonja" co-star Brigitte Nielsen (while he and Shriver were dating, according to Schwarzenegger) and his family's longtime housekeeper, Mildred Patricia Baena. Nine months after Schwarzenegger and Baena had their affair, she gave birth to a son -- less than a week after he and Shriver's fourth child, Christopher, was born. Baena remained the family's housekeeper for years, with her son sometimes around the house as well. But Schwarzenegger said in the "60 Minutes" interview that he didn't have any suspicions he was the father until the boy was 7 or 8 years old and he began to notice "that he started looking like me." "It was never discussed, but I put things together," said Schwarzenegger, whose autobiography "Total Recall" hits bookshelves Monday. After that realization, he said he began sending Baena extra money for her and her son, without talking about his being the boy's father. Schwarzenegger also denied to Shriver that he'd had an affair and that Baena's child was his son -- until Shriver confronted him during a marriage counseling session a few months before their break-up. "She said, 'Am I off on this or am I not?' And I said, 'You are absolutely correct.'" More Wall Street Layoffs Coming (NYP) Nomura analyst Glenn Schorr said in a recent report warns that many banks, which are still overstaffed, need a more liberal wielding of the ax to squeeze out more profits in the coming years, amid a global market that continues to look sluggish. “While overcapacity is weighing on returns under the current environment, most bank managements have been in the camp that the industry is currently experiencing a cyclical rather than secular downturn,” Schorr writes. “So they’ve been slow to do too much on the head-count front,” the bank analyst said regarding layoffs. According to Schorr’s research, big banks like JPMorgan, Credit Suisse, UBS and Barclays have actually added jobs over the past three years. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have only slashed about 1 and 2 percent of their work forces, respectively. Orange Juice Gets Squeezed (WSJ) Since the start of the current hurricane season, futures prices have climbed as high as $1.4095 a pound. Traders and analysts said the possibility of storm damage fueled much of the rise. But since no such storm has materialized, investors are taking profits or cutting their losses, they added. Vikram's Housing Woes (NYP) Pandit is on track to lose money on the sale of his Greenwich, Conn. home, which he bought in June 2001 for $4.1 million. Pandit, 55, put the two-story Colonial on the market for $4.3 million in April. Now he has lowered the price to $3.9 million, according to Trulia.com. South Florida Man Inherits 13,000 Clown Items (SS) Richard Levine is now trying to wrap his head around the unusual pickle he inherited when his father-in-law and business partner died two years ago and left him essentially a warehouse full of curated items of buffoonery. There are clown dolls with faces of joy and sorrow. Clown paintings, some more colorful than others. Clown figurines and clown puppets, some tiny, some huge, some very disturbing. There are clown photographs, clown books and clown costumes...Levine, who runs the same Waterboy Sprinklers business his father-in-law started in the 1970s, said he barely has had the time to go through all of the items. He hopes to inventory all of it, sell most of it, keep some of it and donate the rest to a local charity group. "I am slowly starting to like them and getting enthusiastic about them. I can see how Jack was into them," Levine said. "I don't go for the sad clowns much though, but I really enjoy the happy ones."

Opening Bell: 05.29.12

Greece Pours $22.6 Billion Into Four Biggest Banks (Reuters) The long-awaited injection—via bonds from the European Financial Stability Facility rescue fund—will boost the nearly depleted capital base of National Bank, Alpha, Eurobank and Piraeus Bank. "The funds have been disbursed," an official at the Hellenic Financial Stability Facility, who declined to be named, told Reuters. The HFSF was set up to funnel funds from Greece's bailout programme to recapitalise its tottering banks. The HFSF allocated 6.9 billion euros to National Bank, 1.9 billion to Alpha, 4.2 billion to Eurobank and 5 billion to Piraeus. All four are scheduled to report first-quarter earnings this week. The news came as two government officials told Reuters that near-bankrupt Greece could access 3 billion euros, left from its first bailout programme, to cover basic state payments if efforts to revive falling tax revenue fail. U.S. Ready for Europe Fallout, Says Fed Official (WSJ) "There's absolutely no reason for people in the United States to get all in a dither," Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Plosser said that in the short run, uncertainty in Europe might even work in the U.S. economy's favor, via lower U.S. interest rates and energy prices. Greece to Leave Euro Zone on June 18, Says Guy (CNBC) Greece will leave the euro zone on June 18 if the populist government wins the country’s elections on the 17 as the rest of the euro zone rounds on "cheaters," Nick Dewhirst, director at wealth management firm Integral Asset Management, told CNBC Monday. “The euro zone is a club but you get cheaters who get away with it until everyone finds out and at that point you need to remove them otherwise everyone will cheat. It’s better for Greece to leave,” Dewhirst said. He added that Greek society was built on cheating and scheming, saying “everyone does it” but that voters elsewhere in the euro zone were now calling Greece to account. “The basic question is that a German has to increase working from 65 to 67 and that is to pay for Greeks retiring at 50. The 17th of June is the perfect opportunity to say either 'we’ll behave' or 'we’ll carry on cheating,'" he said. Facebook Debacle Turns High Hopes Into Potentially Mood-Souring Skepticism (WSJ) It is impossible to measure the impact of Facebook's flubbed deal on overall investor confidence. But there is at least one sign of possible fallout: More than $3 billion was yanked from U.S. stock mutual funds by small investors in the week ended Wednesday, according to EPFR Global Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. That was the worst week for withdrawals since March. In the previous week, investors added $311 million to U.S. stock mutual funds. David Guthrie, a 30-year-old actor in Toronto, bought 15 shares of Facebook on its opening day. Before then, he had bought just one stock, yet saw the market as a place to make his savings rise in the long run. Now he feels burned. "If Facebook had made a lot of money, I'd try it again," Mr. Guthrie says. After the stock's disappointing slide, "I would never put big money into the stock market." Zoos' Bitter Choice: To Save Some Species, Letting Others Die (NYT) ...Ozzie, a lion-tailed macaque, will never father children. Lion-tails once flourished in the tops of rain forests in India, using their naturally dark coloring to disappear into the height of the jungle. Though there are only about 4,000 remaining in the wild, not one among Ozzie’s group here in St. Louis will be bred. American zoos are on the verge of giving up on trying to save them. As the number of species at risk of extinction soars, zoos are increasingly being called upon to rescue and sustain animals, and not just for marquee breeds like pandas and rhinos but also for all manner of mammals, frogs, birds and insects whose populations are suddenly crashing. To conserve animals effectively, however, zoo officials have concluded that they must winnow species in their care and devote more resources to a chosen few. The result is that zookeepers, usually animal lovers to the core, are increasingly being pressed into making cold calculations about which animals are the most crucial to save. Some days, the burden feels less like Noah building an ark and more like Schindler making a list. Icahn Takes Chesapeake Energy Stake (WSJ) Carl Icahn skewered Chesapeake Energy Corp.'s CHK board for corporate governance controversies and "irresponsible actions" while disclosing he acquired a sizeable new stake in the company. Euro Likely Worthless as Collector's Item (Bloomberg) FYI. JPMorgan Beefs Up China Unit With $400 Million Injection (Reuters) "The additional capital will better position the bank in the evolving regulatory environment and cement our commitment to clients in China," Zili Shao, Chairman and chief executive of J.P. Morgan China, said in a statement on Monday. "The capital will be used to expand the bank's branch network, develop products, increase corporate lending, and recruit employees," Shao added. Europe Turns To US For Loans (WSJ) In the latest symptom of Europe's financial turmoil, the region's riskier companies are bypassing banks and investors at home and turning to the U.S. for loans. European companies borrowed some €14.4 billion (about $18 billion at current rates) in the U.S. leveraged-loan market this year through Friday, more than double the €6.7 billion for all of 2011, according to data from S&P Capital IQ LCD. That is the highest amount since at least 2007, the height of the last boom in leveraged lending, when full-year loan volume was €12.2 billion, according to S&P. How Boaz Weinstein And Hedge Funds Outsmarted JPMorgan (NYT) By May, when fears over Europe’s debt crisis again came to the fore, the trade reversed. The London Whale was losing. And Mr. Weinstein began to make back all of his losses — and then some — in a matter of weeks. Other hedge funds were also big winners. Blue Mountain Capital and BlueCrest Capital, both created by former JPMorgan traders, were among those winners. Lucidus Capital Partners, CQS and a fund called III came out ahead, too. Inside the hedge fund world, some joked that Mr. Weinstein had been able to spot the London Whale because he himself had been a whale once, too. Drunk Brooklyn woman crashes car through Long Island home (NYDN) A drunken Brooklyn woman crashed her Mercedes into a Long Island home Monday, smashing through the house and landing in the backyard, cops said. Sophia Anderson, 21, failed to turn left or right when the road she was driving on in Huntington deadended at a T-intersection with another street, officials said. She left a train of wreckage as she smashed through the modest house on Southdown Rd., missing the 90-year-old homeowner and her caretaker. Anderson, treated and released at Huntington Hospital, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated, police said.

Opening Bell: 01.14.13

Goldman May Delay UK Bonuses Until Top Tax Rate Falls (Reuters) Goldman Sachs is considering delaying bonus payments in the U.K. until after April 6, when the top rate of income tax in the country will drop to 45 percent, from 50 percent, a person familiar with the bank's operations said on Sunday. The strategy relates to bonuses that were deferred from 2009, 2010 and 2011, the person said. The Financial Times reported the news earlier today. JPMorgan Said to Weigh Disclosing Whale Report Faulting Dimon (Bloomberg) JPMorgan's board will consider releasing an internal report this week that faults Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon’s oversight of a division that lost more than $6.2 billion on botched trades, said two people with direct knowledge of the matter. The final report, which builds on a preliminary analysis released in July, is critical of senior managers including Dimon, 56, former Chief Financial Officer Doug Braunstein, 51, and ex-Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew, 56, for inadequately supervising traders in a U.K. unit that amassed an illiquid position in credit derivatives last year, the people said. The report, which isn’t complete, will be presented to the board when it meets tomorrow. The directors will then vote on whether to disclose it when the bank announces fourth-quarter results the following day, said the people, who asked not to be named because the report isn’t yet public. Morgan Stanley to trim Dubai staff amid global cuts (Reuters) "The Dubai cuts are part of the bank's global plan. Obviously, the bank is trying to focus on growth opportunities in the region and there has been little growth on the equities side barring Saudi," one of the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter has not been made public. Morgan Stanley's equities business will now focus on Saudi Arabia, the source said, adding that planned cuts at other divisions in the Middle East were minimal. Hedge-Fund Leverage Rises to Most Since 2004 in New Year (Bloomberg) The rising use of borrowed money shows that everyone from the biggest firms to individuals is willing to take more risks after missing the rewards of the bull market that began in 2009. While leverage means bigger losses should stocks decline, investors are betting that record earnings and valuations 9.8 percent below the six-decade average will help push the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index toward the record it set in October 2007. “The first step of increasing risk is just going long, the second part of that is levering up in order to go longer,” James Dunigan, who helps oversee $112 billion as chief investment officer in Philadelphia for PNC Wealth Management, said in a Jan. 8 telephone interview. “Leverage increasing in the hedge-fund area suggests they’re now getting on board.” Goldman: Insurer Knew Paulson Was 'Shorting' (WSJ) Goldman Sachs on Friday fired back at a bond insurer suing it over a soured mortgage-linked deal, arguing in a court filing that ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. "cherry-picked" evidence to bolster its case. ACA in 2011 filed suit against Goldman in New York State Court, alleging Goldman misled it about a 2007 mortgage deal. ACA alleges that Goldman told it that one of Goldman's hedge-fund clients, Paulson & Co., was betting on the deal, when in fact Paulson was betting against it, according to an amended complaint the insurer is seeking to file. Had ACA known Paulson's true position, it never would have insured the deal, according to the amended complaint. Goldman countered in the Friday filing that ACA insured the deal knowing Paulson was betting against residential mortgage-backed securities at the time. ACA analyzed and chose the investments in the deal and should have been alerted by various "red flags" that Paulson wasn't betting on the investment, according to the filing. Primate found to be addicted to porn (NYDN) Gina, a resident of the Seville Zoo in Spain, chose to solely watch adult entertainment channels when a television and remote control was placed in her enclosure. Primatologist Pablo Herreros, writing in Spanish newspaper El Mundo, claimed he made the discovery some years ago on a tour of the nation's chimpanzee enclosures. During his research trip he conducted surveys on the behavior of the animals. Herreros wrote, “What I could never imagine were the surprises prepared for me by a female of this species called Gina who inhabited Seville Zoo.” To enliven Gina's nights, officials apparently decided to install a television, protected behind glass, and gave her a remote control so she could change the channels herself. And enliven herself she did. “The surprise was when they found that within a few days, Gina was not only using the remote control perfectly well, but that she also used to choose the porn channel for entertainment, as many of us would have done, ” Herreros wrote. “Although a small study estimated that porn films are only watched for about 12 minutes on average, the truth is that human and non-human primates possess an intense sexual life.” AIG Sues New York Fed... To Secure Right To Sue Bank Of America (Reuters) American International Group Inc has filed a lawsuit against a vehicle created by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to help bail out the insurer, in a bid to preserve its right to sue Bank of America Corp and other issuers of mortgage debt that went sour. The complaint filed in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeks a declaration that AIG has not transferred billions of dollars of "litigation claims" to Maiden Lane II, including many related to the insurer's $10 billion lawsuit against Bank of America. UK court approves ex-Credit Suisse trader's extradition to U.S. (Reuters) A British court on Monday approved the extradition of a former Credit Suisse trader to the United States, where he is wanted over a $540-million fraud dating back to the subprime mortgage crisis. The case of Kareem Serageldin will now be sent to Home Secretary Theresa May, the interior minister, who under British law has the final say over extraditions to the United States. She is expected to give the green light for the transfer to take place. Serageldin, 39, the Swiss bank's former global head of structured credit, is accused of artificially inflating the prices of mortgage-backed bonds between August 2007 and February 2008, when their real value was plummeting. Equities Bear Brunt of Wall Street Job Cuts on Volume (Bloomberg) Employees on stocks desks fell by 8.5 percent globally in the first nine months of last year, according to a survey by Coalition Ltd., an industry analytics firm. That compares with a 6.6 percent drop in fixed-income workers and a 5.8 percent decrease for origination and advisory functions, the data show. Banks Find Promise Unfulfilled in China Forays (WSJ) Global firms sold about US$44 billion worth of shares in Asian financial institutions in 2012 to institutional investors or other strategic buyers, up from US$32.7 billion in 2011, according to data provider Dealogic. The retreat is gathering pace as a host of new regulations, including the so-called Basel III capital rules, make holding minority stakes in financial institutions more expensive. Thousands Participate In Annual No Pants Subway Ride (CBS) Organizers arranged that starting at 3 p.m., people got on trains at six different stops across the city, took off their pants and put them into their backpack. Participants then acted as if everything was completely normal as they rode on to Union Square. Participants are asked to don typical winter wear such as coats, hats and gloves and act as if they don’t know other pantsless riders, according to organizers. The group said it was just all in good fun. “People are willing to give basically their Sunday afternoon to take off their pants; to do something silly and fun, and you know, a good time,” one participant said. “It makes you feel invincible; superior, because nobody else has any idea what’s going on,” another said. There were no-pants subway rides in dozens of cities in 17 countries Sunday. In New York City, participants were happy it was rather warm. In prior years, the cold has bummed them out.

Opening Bell: 01.29.13

US Wants Criminal Charges For RBS (WSJ) U.S. authorities are pushing for a settlement of interest-rate-rigging allegations with Royal Bank of Scotland that would result in a unit of the big British bank pleading guilty to criminal charges in addition to paying a penalty, according to people briefed on the negotiations. RBS executives are resisting any guilty plea, fearful that it could lead clients to cut off activity with the bank and that it could increase exposure to costly litigation, some of these people said. The negotiations reflect a newly tough stance by U.S. authorities, who until recently have faced criticism for rarely pursuing criminal action against big banks.U.S. authorities are pushing for a settlement of interest-rate-rigging allegations with Royal Bank of Scotland Group RBS.LN +0.52% PLC that would result in a unit of the big British bank pleading guilty to criminal charges in addition to paying a penalty, according to people briefed on the negotiations. RBS executives are resisting any guilty plea, fearful that it could lead clients to cut off activity with the bank and that it could increase exposure to costly litigation, some of these people said. The negotiations reflect a newly tough stance by U.S. authorities, who until recently have faced criticism for rarely pursuing criminal action against big banks. IRS can seek UBS records for taxpayers hiding income at Wegelin (Reuters) A federal judge on Monday authorized the Internal Revenue Service to seek records from UBS AG of U.S. taxpayers suspected of hiding their income in accounts with Swiss bank Wegelin. Wegelin, the oldest Swiss private bank, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on January 3 to charges of helping wealthy Americans evade taxes through secret accounts and then announced it would close down as a result. Little Debbie Maker to Buy Drake’s Brand, Hostess Says (Bloomberg) Hostess Brands Inc. said McKee Foods Corp., maker of Little Debbie snacks, agreed to pay $27.5 million for its Drake’s brand and United States Bakery Inc. offered to buy certain bread brands for $28.9 million. “The contemplated purchase prices for Drake’s and the four bread brands, together with our previous announced stalking- horse bid for the majority of our bread business, means we have agreements to sell these assets for at least $440 million,” Hostess Chief Executive Officer Gregory F. Rayburn said today in a statement. United States Bakery agreed to buy the Sweetheart, Eddy’s, Standish Farms and Grandma Emilie’s bread brands, four bakeries and 14 depots, plus certain equipment, according to court papers. Iceland Wins Case On Deposit Guarantees (WSJ) Iceland won a sweeping victory in a court fight over its responsibilities to foreign depositors in Icelandic bank Landsbanki, which failed in 2008. The court of the European Free Trade Association on Monday said Iceland didn't breach European Economic Area directives on deposit guarantees by not compensating U.K. and Dutch depositors in Landsbanki's online savings accounts, known as Icesave accounts. The EFTA Surveillance Authority, or ESA, which brought the case against Iceland, had claimed that Iceland should have made sure U.K. and Dutch savers who lost money on Icesave got repaid from deposit insurance. Jamie-Lynn Sigler engaged to Lenny Dykstra's son (NYDN) The actress who played Meadow Soprano announced on Twitter Monday that she's engaged to Cutter Dykstra, a baseball player with the Washington Nationals. "So this just happened," she tweeted along with a photo showing off her huge new diamond alongside her smiling fiancé. "Thank you so much for all the love everyone. I am so happy and more importantly lucky," Sigler, 31, said in a follow-up tweet. "She said yes!!" Cutter, 23, wrote on his own Twitter feed. Sigler was by Cutter's side last month when family members filed into a federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles for Lenny Dykstra's sentencing in his bankruptcy fraud case. Yahoo Profit Drops But Revenue Rises (WSJ) For Ms. Mayer, the results were enough that the "honeymoon period is going to last at least a couple of more quarters" while investors wait to see progress, said Sameet Sinha, an analyst at B. Riley & Co. Mayor Bloomberg Has Opinions (NYDN) In a New York Magazine profile about Christine Quinn, the City Council Speaker and candidate for mayor, the author recalled being introduced to Bloomberg at what he described as “a Christmas party for the rich” on the Upper East Side. “My friend and I followed the host over, shook Bloomberg’s hand, and my friend thanked him for his position on gun control,” the author writes. “Without even acknowledging the comment, Bloomberg gestured toward a woman in a very tight floor-length gown standing nearby and said, ‘Look at the ass on her.’” According to the article, Bloomberg also has strong opinions about Quinn’s appearance – turning up his nose when she wears flats or waits too long before coloring her hair. “The mayor has no use for flat shoes,” Quinn told the reporter. “I was at a parade with him once and he said, ‘What are those?’ and I said, ‘They’re comfortable,’ and he said, ‘I never want to hear those words out of your mouth again,’” she recalled. “He likes me in high heels.” “Another big thing with the mayor, when I am rooting … like, the couple of days a week before I need to get my hair colored, he’ll say, ‘Do you pay a lot to make your hair be two colors? Because now it’s three with the gray,’” Quinn continued. TARP Firms' Pay Unchecked (WSJ) Christy Romero, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, on Monday said the Treasury failed to look out for taxpayers by relying "to a great extent on the companies' proposals and justifications without conducting its own independent analysis." Ms. Romero also said the Treasury hasn't put in place policies that would ensure salaries are within guidelines designed to discourage excessive risk taking by companies receiving bailout aid. Bridgewater’s Dalio Sees ‘Game Changer’ as Money Shifts (Bloomberg) Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates LP, the world’s biggest hedge fund, said 2013 will be a “game changer” for the economy as investors reallocate money after risks such as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis receded. “There’s a lot of money in a place that’s getting a very bad return and in this particular year there’s going to be, in my opinion, a shift,” Dalio said at a Bloomberg panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “The complexion of the world will change as that money goes from cash into other things. The landscape will change, particularly later in the year and beyond.” Will the New BlackBerry Win Back Corporate Customers? (WSJ) Survey says: probably not but maybe, who knows. Credit Suisse Said to Seek to Sublet at Hong Kong Skyscraper (Bloomberg) If you know anyone who's interested: Credit Suisse is seeking to sublet as much as 64,000 square feet of office space in Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, as prime office vacancies rise in the city amid job cuts by global financial services companies. The Zurich-based bank is looking for tenants to take up two floors, or about a fifth of the space it currently occupies at the International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be identified because the information isn’t public. Woman accused of putting poison in her privates in bid to kill husband (Mirror) A woman is being sued by her husband for allegedly trying to kill him by putting poison in her genitals and then asking him to perform oral sex. The Brazilian wife is accused of planting a toxic substance on her genitals before luring her husband to bed. Reports in the South American country suggest he was ready and willing, and only escaped death because he noticed a strange smell. The curious husband then took his wife to hospital in Sao Jose do Rito Preto to find out the cause of the unusual odour. The alleged attempt on his life was exposed when tests on his wife discovered traces of a poisonous substance down below.

Opening Bell: 11.06.12

Europe, Central Bank Spar Over Athens Aid (WSJ) Greece faces a key Treasury-bill repayment in less than two weeks, and the money isn't there unless governments provide additional aid or the ECB agrees to lend Greek banks the money to roll over the debt. It is a particularly sensitive issue for the ECB, which is trying to create a credible financial backstop to hold the euro together while governments overhaul their economies and finances. But with each step the ECB takes to help Greece and others, it inches ever closer to rules that prevent it from printing money to help governments out of their debt problems. The bank is already facing accusations in Germany that it is straying from its primary mandate to keep inflation low. Iceland Sees Mortgage Bubble Threat From Foreign Cash (Bloomberg) Iceland’s lawmakers are searching for ways to keep their economy from lurching into another asset bubble as offshore investors forced to keep their money in the country channel it into the housing market. Apartment prices have soared 17 percent since April 2010 and are now just 1.7 percent below the pre-crisis peak in March 2008, Statistics Iceland estimates. The boom stems from currency restrictions imposed in 2008 to prevent the collapse of the Krona after the country’s biggest banks defaulted on $85 billion of debt. While those controls helped cauterize a capital exodus and propel a recovery, it left about $8 billion in offshore kronur that can only flow into Icelandic assets, inflating demand for housing and mortgage bonds. The government is now seeking to correct the imbalances, which risk plunging the island into yet another boom-bust cycle just four years after the banking industry dragged the economy through its worst recession since World War II. FBI Probes Rochdale Securities (NYP) The Stamford, Conn., broker dealer is teetering on the brink of extinction, the result of an unauthorized $1 billion purchase of Apple shares on Oct. 25, sources said. The trade of 1.6 million Apple shares was made — instead of a client’s order of one-tenth that amount, or 160,000 shares — to perpetuate the alleged stock manipulation scam, people familiar with the matter said...The alleged stock manipulation scam was being worked with at least one other unidentified trader not affiliated with Rochdale, sources said. Multiple sources said the alleged scam had already pocketed the traders roughly $20 million, sources said. Drop In Financial Deals Spurs One (WSJ) New York investment bank KBW made it through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but it couldn't outlast a drought in financial-services deal making. KBW, which struggled in recent years at the hands of a sharp slowdown in its core business—financial-industry merger advice—agreed be acquired by larger rival Stifel Financial for $575 million. Berkshire Cash Nears Record as Buffett Extends Deal Hunt (Bloomberg) Cash surged 17 percent to $47.8 billion in the three months ended Sept. 30, Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire said in its quarterly regulatory filing Nov. 2. That’s $115 million less than the record at the end of June 2011. “He’s elephant hunting,” said Jeff Matthews, author of “Secrets in Plain Sight: Business & Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett” and a Berkshire shareholder. “And there aren’t a lot of elephants around.” Did Wall Street Just Give Up On Romney? (NetNet) John Carney says yes: "On the eve of the election, many financial professionals on Wall Street believe that Mitt Romney has lost the election. In phone conversations, email and instant messaging exchanges, and text messages with over 20 people in different jobs on Wall Street today the message I picked up was almost universal: The president will be re-elected." Christie: Hug From Springsteen Made Me Weep (WaPo) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told reporters Monday that he had an unexpected — and moving — conversation earlier with his hero, Bruce Springsteen. He also got a hug from the rock legend on Friday, at a benefit concert for victims of Superstorm Sandy. He later cried, calling the moment a highlight in a tough week. “Bruce and I had an opportunity to chat for a while Friday night… we hugged and he told me, ‘it’s official, we’re friends,” Christie said at a news briefing. President Obama was on the phone with the Republican governor Monday, discussing storm damage, when he briefly handed the line over to Springsteen. The rock legend is traveling on Air Force One as he campaigns for the president. Before the storm Springsteen refused to acknowledge Christie, whose budget cuts he has criticized. But in the wake of the disaster, which hit the Jersey Shore particularly hard, he has started to embrace his ardent fan. HSBC Dirty Laundry Costs (Bloomberg) HSBC Holdings said it’s likely to face criminal charges from US anti-money-laundering probes, and the cost of a settlement may “significantly” exceed the $1.5 billion the bank has set aside. The lender has made an additional $800 million provision to cover a potential settlement, adding to the $700 million it had earmarked. A Senate committee said in July that failures in HSBC money-laundering controls allowed terrorists and drug cartels access to the US financial system. Bharara insider streak on line (NYP) With a 6-0 record in trial convictions against defendants caught in his insider-trading probe, Wall Street’s top cop Wednesday will kick off his final trial emanating from that investigation. Already the insider-trading probe has resulted in 68 convictions — including guilty pleas, the biggest Wall Street crackdown since the 1980s. Squaring off against Bharara in Manhattan federal court are two well-heeled hedge-fund defendants: Anthony Chiasson, founder of the $4 billion hedge fund Level Global, and Todd Newman, a former money manager with Diamondback Global. The beginning of jury selection was delayed more than a week because of Hurricane Sandy. Chiasson and Newman stand accused of reaping more than $60 million in profits from trading confidential tips about computer maker Dell and graphics firm Nvidia. 13 People Trying To Trade Gas For Sex On Craiglist (BuzzFeed) It was probably inevitable that the gas shortages in New York and New Jersey would lead to ads like "I've got gas from Hess and looking for any sexy woman who may not want to wait in those long lines for hours and hours only to find the station empty when it's their turn. So let me know, I'm sure we could work something out to get your tank filled and empty mine. Call or text."

Opening Bell: 04.24.12

Dubai Debtors Go on Hunger Strike (FT) About 20 jailed foreign businessmen have gone on hunger strike in Dubai to protest against lengthy sentences for writing checks that bounced, a criminal offence in the United Arab Emirates. “I’ve exhausted every avenue that I can see,” Peter Margetts, 48, a former property developer, told the Financial Times from a prison pay phone. “I’ve exhausted the legal system, the lawyers have their hands tied here and they’re not going to rock the boat.” Mr. Margetts is one of three British prisoners who started a hunger strike on Sunday. Other jailed businessmen come from Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, India and Pakistan. Many of the hunger strikers fell victim to Dubai’s once-thriving real estate market, struggling to meet their payments when boom turned to bust in 2008. Twelve face sentences of more than 20 years because each bounced check can translate into a jail term of up to three years. Wall Street Promotes Junk Bonds as Europe Erupts (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley said last week that U.S. high-yield obligations were in a “sweet spot” as borrowers cut their debt loads. JPMorgan said junk yields will fall more than half a percentage point by year-end. Bank of America favors debentures rated in the middle tier of speculative grade. Gains on U.S. high-yield, high-risk bonds, which are little changed since the end of February, are set to accelerate as central banks respond more aggressively to contain Europe’s fiscal imbalances, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan said. While forecasting the default rate will rise this year, Moody’s Investors Service says the figure will stay below historic averages. Facebook's Growth Slows (WSJ) In what is likely to be the last snapshot of its financial condition before the expected May IPO, Facebook disclosed Monday that its first-quarter profit and revenue declined from the final quarter of 2011...The company's first-quarter revenue was $1.06 billion, down 6% from the December quarter. In a regulatory filing, the company blamed the decline on "seasonal trends" in the advertising business and user growth in markets where Facebook generates less revenue per user. CIT Group Swings To A Loss (WSJ) CIT Group, the business lender that emerged from bankruptcy more than two years ago, posted a wider-than-expected loss of $446.5 million in the first quarter as costs tied to debt repayments weighed on earnings. CIT's lending activity increased, though, and its profit margins on loans improved from a year earlier, a trend that should continue as its efforts to slash debt helps reduce its funding costs in the long run. "We made further progress this quarter positioning CIT for profitability and growth," John Thain, the long-time Wall Street executive who took the helm of CIT in 2010, said in a statement. Harbinger Pays Early (AP) Phil Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners made a $48 million payment on its $190 million loan from Jefferies Group, avoiding a forced sale of assets of his hedge fund, according to a person familiar with the fund. The payment was made a week early and a half million dollars more than what’s due on April 30. Falcone raised money for the loan by selling some investments, said the person. Father And Son Ran 'Brothel On Wheels' (NYP) A father and son from Queens ran a lucrative — and cruel — brothel on wheels for two decades, using six livery drivers to deliver hookers to hotels and apartments, Manhattan prosecutors said today in announcing the ring’s breakup...Johns on the go could purchase and enjoy a sex act without ever leaving the back seat, officials said of the operation, quoting the price scale at $200 to $500 per customer. Business was good — one woman alone allegedly earned half-a-million dollars for the father and son last year, and the Georges employed five women at the time of the bust, officials said. But as nice as they were to customers, the alleged father and son pimps were nasty to their prostitutes, threatening them, giving them little money so as to keep them helpless and even branding them with tattoos — including a bar code on one woman’s neck, according to officials. At least one of the women had a heart tattoo on her breast with the word “Vee,” which is the dad’s nickname. At least three of the women had tattoos featuring the son’s nickname, “King Koby.” Calpers Scalpers (NYP) The former head of the nation’s biggest pension defrauded funds run by private-equity titan Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management to pay a pal’s placement agencies $20 million, a lawsuit filed yesterday charged. Federico Buenrostro, the CEO of the $235 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System from 2002 to 2008, teamed up with buddy Alfred Villalobos’ Arvco Capital Research on a scheme to pocket the boatload of fees from Apollo, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged in a civil suit filed in a Nevada federal court. Villalobos was the deputy mayor of Los Angeles in 1993. It is charged that the two ginned up fake “disclosure letters” and sent them to Apollo, making it appear that Calpers OK’d the payment when, in fact, it had not. The two used the fake letters four times, the suit alleges. Judge: DA Can Subpoena Occupy Protester Tweets (NBC) A judge says an Occupy Wall Street protester can't stop prosecutors from getting his tweets as part of a case surrounding his arrest at a demonstration. A Manhattan criminal court judge ruled Friday there are reasonable grounds to believe the information is relevant. The judge also says Malcolm Harris can't legally challenge the subpoena sent to Twitter Inc., not him. Harris was among more than 700 demonstrators arrested Oct. 1 on the Brooklyn Bridge. Wal-Mart Said To Be Subject Of US Criminal Probe (Bloomberg) The Justice Department is investigating potential criminal charges under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to the person familiar with the probe who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about it. Wal-Mart is conducting its own review of allegations that its representatives paid local officials in Mexico to get stores opened faster in the early 2000s. Chris Christie Not Happy With NJ Nets Move To Brooklyn (NYDN) As the Nets were preparing their farewell, the Governor of New Jersey was kicking them out the door. “I’m not going to the Nets game tonight and my message to the Nets is ‘Goodbye,’ ” Christie said. “If you don’t want to stay, we don’t want you. Seriously, I’m not going to be in the business of begging people to stay here. That’s one of the most beautiful arenas in America that they’ve had a chance to play in. It’s in one of the country’s most vibrant cities. “They want to leave here and go to Brooklyn? Good riddance. See you later.”