Opening Bell: 7.30.20 - Dealbreaker

U.S. Economy Contracted at Record Rate Last Quarter; Jobless Claims Rise to 1.43 Million [WSJ]
The Commerce Department said U.S. gross domestic product—the value of all goods and services produced across the economy—fell at a 32.9% annual rate in the second quarter, or a 9.5% drop compared with the same quarter a year ago. Both figures were the steepest in records dating to 1947…. “The key caveat is that it will be a lot less better than we were expecting a few months ago,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said about the third quarter….
Separately, the Labor Department said applications for weekly unemployment benefits rose by 12,000 to 1.43 million in the week ended July 25, and the number of people receiving unemployment benefits increased by 867,000 to 17 million in the week ended July 18, signs the jobs recovery is losing momentum.

Credit Suisse Shakes Up Investment Banking [WSJ]
The new investment-banking arm will comprise the divisions previously known as investment banking and capital markets, global markets and the Asia-Pacific markets business, which had operated separately before. Separate investment-banking arms will continue to be housed in Credit Suisse’s Asia-Pacific division and Swiss bank…. Mr. Gottstein declined to give an overall figure regarding job cuts but said some duplicated roles would go. He noted that the bank’s head count has risen this year because of a lack of attrition during the pandemic and may need to come down to keep the bank on track to meet its financial targets.

Carlyle profit dented by compensation costs [MarketWatch]
Performance allocations and incentive-fee-related compensation came in at $535.6 million in the quarter, up from $113.6 million a year earlier, the Washington, D.C., firm said…. The fair value of Carlyle's private-equity funds climbed by 13% in the second quarter. That compares with a 20% jump for the S&P 500.

Lawmakers, United in Their Ire, Lash Out at Big Tech’s Leaders [NYT]
For more than five hours, the 15 members of an antitrust panel in the House lobbed questions and repeatedly interrupted and talked over Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sundar Pichai of Google…. Democratic lawmakers criticized the tech companies for buying start-ups to stifle them and for unfairly using their data hoards to clone and kill off competitors, while Republicans questioned whether the platforms had muzzled conservative viewpoints and were unpatriotic….
In one of the sharpest exchanges, Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, confronted Mr. Bezos on accusations that an Amazon lawyer had lied to the committee about how the company develops its own products. She asked him to answer whether it misused data with a yes or no.
“I can’t answer that question yes or no,” said Mr. Bezos, appearing rattled.

As the Pandemic Forced Layoffs, C.E.O.s Gave Up Little [NYT]
Only a small percentage of the companies cut salaries for their senior executives at all, which is surprising given that the pandemic has crushed profits and sales for many companies, forcing large layoffs. But even among businesses that did cut the boss’s pay, two-thirds of the chief executives took reductions that were equivalent to only 10 percent or less of their 2019 compensation, according to an analysis by CGLytics, a compensation analysis firm.
Companies in this group include the Walt Disney Company, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Marriott International. All of those businesses have laid off or furloughed employees or pressed workers to take pay cuts…. This analysis is incomplete because the year is not over. In the coming months, corporate boards could decide to significantly reduce the bonuses and stock options they hand out to top executives for 2020.

Germany Asks Russia to Help Find Former Wirecard Executive [WSJ]
German authorities have asked Russian officials if Jan Marsalek, the former Wirecard AG executive who ran operations for the disgraced fintech company, had entered Russia and requested they act on an Interpol notice issued for his arrest.
The request, made on July 22, and a “red notice” issued through multilateral police organization Interpol were disclosed in written answers the German government provided to lawmakers on Wednesday…. The Russians hadn’t responded to the German request as of Tuesday, according to the written answers.

Contrarian, GMA Sue to Bar $17 Billion Ecuador Restructuring [Bloomberg Law]
Contrarian, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based hedge fund, and Boston-based GMO asked a judge in New York on Wednesday to block the plan, saying Ecuador’s public statements about the restructuring proposal are “designed to deceive and mislead bondholders about the coercive nature” of the tender and exchange offer.

Will the Penny Survive Coronavirus? Some Hope Not [NYT]
Given the economic crisis facing the United States, the government could use the money it would save by ending the production of pennies for more important causes, she said. The Mint manufactured more than seven billion pennies in fiscal year 2019, at loss of nearly $70 million…. Each penny costs about 2 cents to produce, according to a 2019 report by the United States Mint. Pennies accounted for 59 percent of the 12 billion coins the mint manufactured last year.

NY Cab Drivers Protest Outside Greenwich Hedge Fund That Owns Thousands of Medallions [Greenwich Free Press]
Cabs had posters taped to their windows saying, “Debt forgiveness now,” “No More Suicides,” “No More Bankruptcies,” and, “It’s not charity; it’s loan forgiveness….”
One cabbie said he has has virtually no income since the pandemic, but still has to pay over $3,000 a month for his loan. He said didn’t want to declare bankruptcy because he didn’t want to lose his house…. “The medallions have zero value now,” said another cabbie. “But Marblegate is not reducing the 5% interest rate.

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Opening Bell: 10.23.15

Steve Cohen is having the best week ever; Jeff Bezos is rich; "Mr. Left issues reports laced with profanity, vivid anatomical descriptions and taunts directed at corporate executives"; and more.

Opening Bell: 11.01.12

Wall Street Sputters Back To Life (WSJ) It wasn't until Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYSE Euronext Chief Executive Officer Duncan Niederauer rang the opening bell that traders knew for sure that the systems would work. "Out of this postapocalyptic world that we're all looking at, that's a ray of good news, that they're actually able to get the exchange open," said Keith Bliss, senior vice president at Cuttone & Co., a brokerage with operations on the NYSE floor. Barclays Faces $435 Million Fine, Another Probe (WSJ) Barclays aced a double-barreled assault from U.S. authorities, as the federal energy-market regulator sought a record $435 million in penalties for the bank's alleged manipulation of U.S. electricity markets, and the lender also disclosed that it was facing a U.S. anticorruption investigation. The corruption investigation focuses on potential violations during the bank's efforts to raise money from Middle Eastern investors in the early days of the financial crisis. The probe, being conducted by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, is at an early stage. Wells Expands Into Investment Banking As Others Retreat (Reuters) The growth worries some investors who want the notoriously conservative bank to stick to its knitting, but Wells Fargo believes that now is a good time to hire. "Our eyes are wide open," said John Shrewsberry, head of the bank's investment banking and capital markets operations, known as Wells Fargo Securities. "There are a lot of very talented people at different stages of availability," he added in an interview this week. The fourth-largest U.S. bank says it can earn solid returns in investment banking while taking little risk for itself. It is focusing on services that its corporate lending customers need, such as stock and bond underwriting and merger advice. For investors, it is looking at areas like processing futures and swaps trades. The bank shies away from riskier undertakings like trading for its own account. The Wells Fargo Securities unit is relatively small now. It's biggest hub is in Charlotte, North Carolina, far from the storm that has hobbled Wall Street this week. In a few years, the unit could account for twice as much of the firm's revenue as it does now - an estimated 10 percent compared to its current five, Deutsche Bank analyst Matt O'Connor wrote in a report. Sandy's Economic Cost: Up To $50 Billion And Counting (CNBC) By contrast, the two costliest hurricanes in U.S. history to date were Katrina, with estimated losses of $146 billion, and Andrew, with loses estimated at $44 billion. But there are offsets and Moody's Mark Zandi and other economists note that there will be considerable rebuilding that will accompany the storm. Because the storm hit early in the quarter, Zandi points out that if $20 billion is spent cleaning up and rebuilding, the actual measured impact on gross domestic product could be zero. IHS Global Insight U.S. Economists Gregory Daco and Nigel Gault are doubtful. They note that the rebuilding often takes the place of investment elsewhere and often not everything is rebuilt. “The effect on growth for the fourth quarter will not be catastrophic but might still be noticeable, especially in an economy with little momentum anyway,” IHS wrote. The debate begs the question of whether such natural disasters can ultimately stimulate an economy. Eric Strobl, of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, who has studied the impact of hurricanes for more than a decade, found that hurricanes at the local level are usually negative for growth. NYC Struggles to Come Back to Life as Storm Chaos Lingers (Bloomberg) New York City struggled to return to normal life after superstorm Sandy, managing a partial resumption of mass transit amid a landscape of miles-long traffic jams, widespread blackouts and swarms of marooned residents. Limited service on the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter trains began today, and service on 14 of 23 subway lines will resume tomorrow, Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news briefing in Manhattan. Still, power losses kept thousands of people and businesses in the dark and prevented trains from running below 34th Street in Manhattan. Basements and homes were waterlogged or submerged, and 6,300 remained in shelters...The lack of transit options is unprecedented, said Bernie Wagenblast, who has monitored metro traffic for more than 30 years, including stints as a radio reporter on WABC and WINS. “It reminds me a little of back in the ’70s when we had the gas crisis and cars were lined up for long, long distances trying to get gasoline,” Wagenblast said. “Now you’ve got cars in addition to people with their gas cans waiting on line who are trying to get fuel.” In Manhattan, an unofficial line divided the haves with power from the have-nots. South of about 34th Street, far fewer shops or restaurants than usual were open. Traffic lights were inoperable, though an unspoken etiquette emerged as many drivers took turns letting one another pass through intersections. Work was stopped at the Ground Zero construction site, which is still flooded. LaGuardia Airport, the only one of the three major New York-area airports that remains closed, can’t resume flights until floodwaters are drained and ground lights and equipment are checked. Labor Dept. Report on Jobs to Appear Friday as Planned (NYT) The hurricane had shut down government offices on Monday and Tuesday, and threatened to delay the release of the monthly jobs numbers. That led to hand-wringing in the presidential campaigns and even some accusations that the Obama administration might delay the numbers for its political benefit. But a Labor Department spokesman said Wednesday in an e-mail message that the report would come out as planned, at 8:30 a.m. E.S.T. on Friday. The Philadelphia 76ers unveil the world’s largest T-shirt cannon (YS) On opening night, the Sixers [unveiled] Big Bella, the world's largest T-shirt launcher that fires 100 tees in just 60 seconds. Big Bella weighs 600 pounds and, when firing T-shirts into the upper reaches of the Wells Fargo Center, can be up to 10 feet high. The team commissioned the creation of Big Bella from FX in Motion, an entertainment elements company out of New Berlin, Wisc. The team will also drop T-shirts, free game tickets and other promotional items from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center down to fans below in a new themed "Sixers Parachute Drop." Australia Targets China’s Rich With “Millionaire” Visa (Deal Journal) Got 5 million Australian dollars (US$5.2 million) spare and need a residency visa? Australia’s doors will soon be open. From Nov. 24, Australia will accept applications under a new program, known as the Significant Investor Visa scheme, aimed at attracting the world’s wealthy to make the move and park their money Down Under. The only catch is that the A$5 million must be invested in state and territory Australian government debt, privately-owned Australian companies and managed funds that invest in Australian assets regulated by the Australian Securities & Investment Commission for four years. The new visa has already got financial advisers throughout Australia devising investment solutions for applicants. Consultants expect no shortage of takers especially from China, which is seeing an increasing flow of wealthy citizens sending money overseas, investing in assets as diverse as condos in Cyprus, or education for children overseas. A Wall Street Journal analysis of these flows suggests that in the 12 months through September, about US$225 billion headed out of China, equivalent to about 3% of the nation’s economic output last year. Harvard Business School Survey: HBS Students Favor Obama (Harbus) Surveys completed by 668 members of the HBS student body last week revealed that President Barack Obama had the support of 65% of the student community. Challenger Mitt Romney captured 32% of the vote while the remainder said they supported a third-party candidate, were unsure, or did not plan to vote. A Year After MF Global's Collapse, Brokerage Firms Feel Less Pressure For Change (Dealbook) For their part, many MF Global employees remain chastened by their firm’s collapse. Lawmakers hauled Mr. Corzine, a former senator from New Jersey, to Washington three times to testify before Congressional committees. Some MF Global employees remain unemployed while others took major pay cuts to work for the trustee unwinding the firm’s assets. Several MF Global employees planned to gather on Thursday for drinks at a Midtown Manhattan bar, just blocks from their old firm, to commiserate on their trying year. They canceled the event after another disaster, Hurricane Sandy, left some people stranded without power. Hawaii Tourist Saved By Taekwondo Skills (ABC) A 12-foot-long tiger shark messed with the wrong person. Mariko Haugen, a taekwando black belt, was enjoying a swim in Maui, Hawaii, when she was confronted by the creature. “She saw it a few seconds before it hit – and she gave it her best Tae Kwon Do black belt punch in the nose,” Don Haugen, Mariko’s husband, wrote on Facebook. Haugen’s husband and another man saw the attack and helped carry her to safety. She received more than 100 stitches to close wounds on her right hand and thigh.

Opening Bell: 07.16.12

Citigroup Profit Beats Analysts’ Estimates On Investment Bank (Bloomberg) Citi reported a 12 percent drop in second-quarter profit that beat analysts’ estimates on revenue from advising on mergers and underwriting stocks and bonds. Net income declined to $2.95 billion, or 95 cents a share, from $3.34 billion, or $1.09, a year earlier, the New York-based bank said today in a statement. Excluding accounting adjustments and a loss from the sale of a stake in a Turkish bank, earnings were $1 a share, compared with the average estimate of 89 cents in a Bloomberg survey of 18 analysts. HSBC Seeks To Evict Occupiers In Hong Kong (WSJ) HSBC said Monday it is seeking the right to evict an encampment of protesters that has been occupying the ground floor of the bank's Hong Kong headquarters since October, drawing inspiration from the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York last year. Libor Flaws Allowed Banks To Rig Rates Without Conspiracy (Bloomberg) FYI: “It is far easier to manipulate Libor than it may appear,” Andrew Verstein, a lecturer at Yale Law School, said in a paper to be published in the Winter 2013 issue of the Yale Journal on Regulation. “No conspiracy is required.” States Join Libor Probe (WSJ) Prosecutors in New York and Connecticut are investigating whether their states incurred losses as a result of interest-rate manipulation by banks, a probe that could lead to a wider multistate enforcement action, according to New York officials. The joint probe by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen could lead to civil enforcement action, including possible breaches of antitrust and fraud laws, the officials said. Libor Probe May Yield Criminal Charges By September (Bloomberg) Barclays traders involved in allegedly manipulating Libor rates between 2005 and 2007 may be charged by U.S. prosecutors before the Labor Day holiday on Sept. 3, said a person familiar with the Justice Department investigation in Washington. Zuckerberg’s Loan Gives New Meaning To The 1% (Bloomberg) The Facebook founder refinanced a $5.95 million mortgage on his Palo Alto, California, home with a 30-year adjustable-rate loan starting at 1.05 percent, according to public records for the property. Missteps Doomed Barclays Leaders (WSJ) Mr. Diamond's downfall may have been hastened because the U.S.-born investment banker, who became chief executive at the start of 2011, had never won acceptance by Britain's political and financial establishment. When the rate-fixing scandal erupted, Mr. Diamond had few allies. It wasn't for lack of trying. Mr. Diamond enthusiastically embraced British culture and tried to overcome his reputation as a brash American. Mr. Diamond, a native of Concord, Mass., supported the Chelsea Football Club, handing out trophies himself when the team won England's premier soccer league in 2010. A month before the Libor settlement, Mr. Diamond hosted British aristocrats and Barclays' clients at the annual Chelsea Flower Show, providing Champagne and canapés as his guests inspected elaborate gardens and floral arrangements...But Mr. Diamond, age 60, was criticized for his lofty pay packages, as well as perceived risks in the investment-banking business he built. He sometimes appeared tone deaf in a country still angry about the role of banks in the financial crisis. "There was a period of remorse and apology," he told Parliament last year. "That period needs to be over." Activists Go After Big Game (WSJ) William Ackman's $2 billion bet that he can boost the value of consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble Co. reflects a new era of activist investing, in which no company is too big a target and restless institutional investors are more willing to rock the boat. Mr. Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management LP owns a little more than 1% of P&G's shares. A few years ago, that would have been considered too small a stake in too big a company to exert much influence on management, the board or other investors. Tax Cuts Perpetuate Inequality, Should End: Summers (CNBC) The United States should not extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans even as the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ looms because it will perpetuate income inequality, says Larry Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary. Instead, these revenues should go towards strengthening public education and ensuring that low-income students are presented with equal opportunities as their wealthy counterparts so that they can participate in the economy. Tax breaks for the wealthy cannot continue to exist because it leads to a “perpetuation of privilege”, Summers said in the editorial in the Financial Times on Sunday. Unless steps were taken to “responsibly” increase the burden on those with high income and redistribute the proceeds, the trend toward inequality will continue, he said. Devils On The (B)rink (NYP) New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek is talking to private-equity firms and hedge funds about buying into his financially strapped team, according to sources close to the situation Vanderbeek is looking to sell a majority stake, but keep operating control, sources said. The talks, coming three weeks after the 55-year old former Wall Street executive seemed close to inking a deal with an investor to save the team, are leading some in the financial world to believe the deal has fallen apart. If that’s so, it would be a terrible break for Vanderbeek, who is facing an Aug. 14 deadline to get the Devils’ financing in order...Creditors are owed $80 million. Downgrade Anniversary Shows Investors Gained Buying U.S. (Bloomberg) When Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. government’s credit rating in August, predictions of serious fallout soon followed. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney described it as a “meltdown” reminiscent of the economic crises of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. He warned of higher long-term interest rates and damage to foreign investors’ confidence in the U.S. U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the government’s loss of its AAA rating would raise the cost of mortgages and car loans. Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer of Pacific Investment Management Co., said over time the standing of the dollar and U.S. financial markets would erode and credit costs rise “for virtually all American borrowers.” They were wrong. Almost a year later, mortgage rates have dropped to record lows, the government’s borrowing costs have eased, the dollar and the benchmark S&P stock index are up, and global investors’ enthusiasm for Treasury debt has strengthened. Woman tells police man sucked her toe at Grovetown Walmart (AC) The 18-year-old said she was shopping when a man, who looked to be in his late 30s or early 40s, walked up and asked if her toenails were painted, according to a Columbia County Sheriff’s Office incident report. After replying yes and questioning why he wanted to know, the woman was asked if she’d watched America’s Funniest Home Videos. The man told her he was with the TV show and if she complied with his requests, everything she purchased that day would be free. She said she reluctantly agreed to let him take a photo of her foot. He asked if he could kiss her foot as part of the prank and she agreed. The man guided her to an area behind a clothing rack, dropped to the floor, grabbed her ankle and told her, “Don’t worry. I don’t bite.” He then started sucking on her big toe. The woman said she screamed at him to stop. Before the man ran from the store, he told her, “It tasted so good, though.”

Opening Bell: 11.28.12

Gorman Enlists Morgan Stanley Workforce in Fiscal Cliff Campaign (Bloomberg) Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman called on the investment bank’s employees to pressure U.S. lawmakers into reaching an agreement that averts the so-called fiscal cliff. “No issue is more critical right now for the U.S. economy, the global financial markets and the financial well-being of our clients, which is why I am asking you to participate in the democratic process and make your voice heard,” Gorman wrote in a memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. The message went to about 30,000 U.S. workers including 16,000 financial advisers, said James Wiggins, a company spokesman. Buffett Expects 'Fiscal Cliff' Fix, But Not By December 31 (CNBC) Buffett didn't outline a specific solution that he prefers, saying he could "go with any number of plans." But he thinks the end result should have U.S. revenues at 18.5 percent of GDP and expenditures at 21 percent. Those levels would be "sustainable" because the ratio of the nation's national debt to GDP wouldn't increase, and might even fall over time. SAC Capital Received a Wells Notice From SEC Last Week, May Be Subject to Civil Charges (CNBC) Story developing. EU Approves Spanish Banks' Restructuring Plans (WSJ) European Union regulators Wednesday gave the green light to nearly €40 billion ($51.78 billion) in euro-zone funding for Spain's stricken bank sector, as it approved the restructuring plans for four lenders. BFA/Bankia, NCG Banco, Catalunya Banc and Banco de Valencia SA BVA.MC will require a total of €37 billion for their recapitalization plans, the regulators said. The European Union's Competition Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, said bondholders would face losses. Will Italy Need A Bailout In 2013? (CNBC) “We still see as our baseline scenario that Italy will likely be forced to ask for an international bailout at some point in 2013,” said Citi Analyst Giada Giani in a report on the country. “Italian economic fundamentals have not really improved, despite some improvement in market conditions. The negative feedbacks from fiscal austerity on growth have been severe, as the ability of the private sector to absorb fiscal tightening by lowering its saving rate is limited.” EU Agrees New Controls for Credit Rating Agencies (Reuters) European Union countries and the bloc's parliament agreed on Tuesday to introduce limited controls on credit ratings agencies after their judgment was called into question in the debt crisis. Michel Barnier, the European commissioner in charge of regulation who helped broker a deal on the new law, said it aimed to reduce the over-reliance on ratings and establish a civil liability regime. The new rules should make it easier to sue the agencies if they are judged to have made errors when, for example, ranking the creditworthiness of debt. Deutsche Bank Sued Over Home Mortgage-Backed Securities (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, was sued by a trustee over claims that some securities sold by a unit of the bank were backed by home-mortgage loans taken out by fraudulent borrowers. DB Structured Products Inc.’s pool of more than 1,500 mortgages included more than 320 that were defective, HSBC Bank USA (HSBA), acting as trustee, said in a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan. “Borrowers lied, with or without the knowledge of the loan originators themselves, concerning how much money they owed, how much money they made, whether and where they worked, and where they lived,” HSBC claimed. “A handful of instances of such inaccuracies is perhaps to be expected. Hundreds of instances of borrower dishonesty is not.” HSBC seeks unspecified damages and said Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank must buy back the breaching loans under its agreements with the trustee. Woman Jailed For Attacking Beau Over Bad Sex (TSG) A Florida woman was jailed last night for a post-coital assault on her boyfriend, an attack the victim says was prompted when only he climaxed during a sexual encounter in the couple’s residence. Raquel Gonzalez, 24, was arrested Monday afternoon for felony domestic battery and booked into the Manatee County lockup, where bond has been set at $750. According to a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office report, Gonzalez and Esric Davis, 30, are “boyfriend and girlfriend who live in the same home and are involved in a sexual relationship.” Deputies noted that Davis and Gonzalez were “involved in sexual intercourse” when “Esric then climaxed and Raquel did not.” Which reportedly angered Gonzalez, who allegedly “began hitting and scratching [Davis], causing scratches near his eye and nose.” Davis told investigators that Gonzalez “goes off” frequently and that she had previously been physical with him. Be right back, hon ... with a $53M tip (NYP) Anthony Chiasson, the founder of hedge fund Level Global, started getting illegal insider tips in 2008 when the $4 billion firm was going through a rough patch, a key government witness told a jury yesterday. The witness, Sam Adondakis, a former analyst who worked for Chiasson, said he told his boss tips on Dell came straight from the tech giant...The Dell tip that netted the firm millions wasn’t without its drama. On Aug. 27, the day before Dell announced its results, Chiasson, Level Global co-founder David Ganek, and Greg Brenner, fund executive, held a conference call about their Dell position. At the time, Adondakis, on vacation in the Hamptons, was sitting down to breakfast with his girlfriend, he said yesterday. Adondakis said he remembers the conference call well because his girlfriend “was annoyed” by the conversation, which took him away from their meal for a good 40 minutes. Banks Feel Currency Pinch (WSJ) Banks reported sharp drops in currency-trading revenue last quarter, in many cases deepening a slump that began early this year. Even Deutsche Bank AG, the world's biggest foreign-exchange bank, reported revenue "significantly lower than the prior year" even as the volume of transactions it handled hit a record high in the third quarter. Banks are struggling on two fronts. A calm in currency markets relative to the swings of the last few years has reduced overall trading activity. And the explosive growth of electronic trading has brought transparency to a roughly $4 trillion-a-day market, making buyers and sellers less reliant on big banks to pair them up. Executives' Good Luck in Trading Own Stock (WSJ) Among 20,237 executives who traded their own company's stock during the week before their companies made news, 1,418 executives recorded average stock gains of 10% (or avoided 10% losses) within a week after their trades. This was close to double the 786 who saw the stock they traded move against them that much. Most executives have a mix of trades, some that look good in retrospect and others that do not. 'Two and a Half Men' star apologizes for offending cast and crew (CNN) A day after a video posted online showed him describing "Two and a Half Men" as "filth" and advising viewers to stop watching the sitcom, actor Angus T. Jones apologized to the show's cast and crew Tuesday. "I apologize if my remarks reflect me showing indifference to and disrespect of my colleagues and a lack of appreciation of the extraordinary opportunity of which I have been blessed," Jones said in a statement released by his publicist. "I never intended that." The 19-year-old actor -- who plays Jake Harper, the CBS sitcom's "Half" man -- didn't detail what motivated him to make comments...In the video, the actor, who's been on the show since 2003, repeatedly asks viewers not to watch the sitcom. "I'm on 'Two and a Half Men,' and I don't want to be on it," Jones said. "You cannot be a true God-fearing person and be on a television show like that. I know I can't. I'm not OK with what I'm learning, what the Bible says, and being on that television show. You go all or nothing."

Opening Bell: 03.21.13

ECB Threatens To Cut Off Cypriot Banks (WSJ) The European Central Bank ramped up pressure on Cyprus to seal a bailout agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund by Monday, making further funding for the island's ailing banks contingent on a deal. The ECB said it would extend emergency funding that has kept the island's banks in operation while the bailout plan was being negotiated in recent months only until Monday. "Thereafter, Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) could only be considered if an European Union/International Monetary Fund program is in place that would ensure the solvency of the concerned banks," the ECB said in a statement. Italy's Five-Star Party Reiterates Demand for Euro Referendum (WSJ) Representatives of Italy's Five-Star Movement reiterated their anti-establishment party's demands for a referendum on the country's membership of the euro, and insisted that they should form the country's next government. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is consulting political leaders on forming a government after last month's inconclusive election result. Deustche Bank Legal Bill Mounts (WSJ) Deustche Bank revised fourth-quarter earnings downward, setting aside about €600 million ($773 million) in legal provisions for U.S. mortgage litigation in another sign that mounting legal liabilities are cutting into investment -bank profits. The bank updated its fourth-quarter net loss to 2.54 billion euros, wider than the originally reported loss of €2.17 billion. This compared with a profit of €147 million a year earlier. The bank also reiterated that it would make first-quarter targets for a key measure of the bank's health known as the capital ratio, indicating a strong first quarter, analysts said. Deutsche Bank has now set aside €2.4 billion for litigation, with additional identified non-provisioned legal risks of €1.5 billion. The bank's legal provisions were nearly 10 times net profit of €237 million for 2012, compared with a profit of €4.1 billion in 2011. Total legal risk is likely much higher than what the bank has publicly identified, analysts said. Lululemon Sees Sheerness Issue Hitting Profits (WSJ) Lululemon Athletica said Thursday its fourth-quarter profit climbed 48%, but said it expects the transparency issue related to some of its yoga pants to reduce first-quarter earnings by 11 to 12 cents a share. Bernanke Saying He’s Dispensable Suggests Tenure Ending (Bloomberg) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said he’s “spoken to the president a bit” about his future and that he feels no personal responsibility to stay at the helm until the Fed winds down its unprecedented policies to stimulate the economy. “I don’t think that I’m the only person in the world who can manage the exit,” Bernanke said when asked at a news conference in Washington if he’s discussed his plans with President Barack Obama. His term expires at the end of January. Personal assistant pleads guilty to embezzling 821G from hedge funder Todd Meister (NYP) After a year of denials, glamorous Ukranian embezzler Renata Shamrakova admitted in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday that she stole nearly $1 million while working as the personal assistant to hedge funder Todd Meister. Under the plea deal, she will serve no jail time but must repay what she took within two years. “Yes, your honor,” Shamrakova told the judge, when asked if she had committed grand larceny in the second degree by stealing from Meister, 42, a Harvard-educated money man who famously married Nicky Hilton for just six weeks in 2004. Shamrakova, 28, wore a gray cashmere sweater over a short, floral-print skirt and spoke in a quiet, girlish voice as she sat at the defense table and admitted her crimes. In addition to ripping off Meister, she tried to dodge a search warrant by hiding financial records. Dell Walks Fine Line in Pitch for Buyout (WSJ) Mr. Dell needs to persuade Dell Inc. investors that the prospects for the company he founded in his dorm room in 1984 and has been running for the past six years are anything but rosy if he is to succeed with his plan to take the computer maker private. Friday marks the end of a 45-day window to flush out alternative offers to the $24.4 billion buyout deal that Mr. Dell and private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners reached last month. The $13.65-a-share offer has sparked derision from some shareholders who believe the price undervalues the Round Rock, Texas, company. No alternative bid has been offered, but late Wednesday Blackstone Group LP was working on a few scenarios for a potential bid that would see the private-equity giant team with a partner to buy all or part of the computer maker, according to people familiar with the matter. JPMorgan To Return Money To MF Global Customers (AP) JPMorgan Chase has agreed to a deal that will return $546 million to former customers of trading firm MF Global Holdings Ltd., which collapsed in 2011 with $1.6 billion missing from its accounts. Initial Jobless Claims in U.S. Rise Less Than Forecast (Bloomberg) Applications for jobless benefits increased by 2,000 to 336,000 in the week ended March 16, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists projected 340,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. The monthly average, which smoothes the week-to-week volatility, dropped to the lowest level since February 2008. Regulator finds flaws in Deutsche Bank's Libor supervision (Reuters) German markets watchdog Bafin is set to tell Deutsche Bank of "organizational flaws" in how it supervised its contribution to the setting of inter-bank lending rates at the heart of the international rate-rigging scandal, sources familiar with the watchdog's investigation said. Wis. limits use of nude beach to reduce sex, drugs (AP) Wisconsin authorities announced Tuesday they will shut down one of nation's most popular nude beaches on weekdays after struggling for years to curtail sex and drugs on the sandbar and surrounding woods. Nudists from around the country have been traveling to the public beach on the Wisconsin River near Mazomanie, about 25 miles northwest of Madison, for decades as word spread that prosecutors in ultra-liberal Dane County wouldn't go after anyone for showing skin. But visitors haven't stopped at just stripping down. They've been slipping off into the woods for trysts and drugs. Authorities say that's crossing the line, but they haven't been able to stop the shenanigans. Their frustration reached a tipping point Tuesday, when the state Department of Natural Resources announced it will close the beach, the islands immediately off it and the surrounding woods to the public on weekdays, when wardens say troublemakers tend to operate unseen. The closures begin immediately. The area will remain open on weekends, though. Bob Morton, executive director of the Austin, Tex.-based Naturist Action Committee, which lobbies on behalf of nudists, has visited the beach several times. He criticized the DNR for not consulting with beachgoers before closing the area. "Honestly, we're on their side when it comes to enforcing things that are lewd and lascivious," Morton said. "There's something to be said about consulting the users of the place. There's got to be more to this somewhere."

Opening Bell: 03.07.12

Goldman No.1 in Investment Bank Fees (Bloomberg Markets) Total investment banking fees for all financial institutions in 2011 were $49.1 billion, matching the $49.1 billion from 2010. Total deal volume also matched 2010, at $6.9 trillion. Goldman took the top spot in the ranking even as its total fees fell in 2011 to $3.46 billion from $3.6 billion in 2010. Goldman is also No. 1 in M&A fees for the eighth consecutive year. JPMorgan dropped to No. 3 from No. 1 in the overall ranking. Morgan Stanley held on to the No. 2 spot, with $3.26 billion in overall fees, down 11 percent from the prior 12 months. Investors With 39.3% of Greek Debt Will Swap (Bloomberg) The thirty members of the private creditor-investor committee for Greece who plan to participate in the swap hold an aggregate 81 billion euros of Greek debt, or 39.3 percent of the Greek debt eligible for the swap, according to the email. Obama pitches CEOs on economic growth (Politico) President Barack Obama pitched his proposals for economic growth to an audience of CEOs Tuesday, including Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan and Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase. The president hailed his proposed investments in infrastructure and training and pointed to common ground with the business community, including the signing of free trade agreements and allowing Russia into the World Trade Organization, according to a pool report. Obama said he will go anywhere in the world to secure markets for American goods, and, noting a large order inked by Boeing, quipped, "I expect a gold watch upon my retirement" for all the planes he's helped sell around the world. "Obviously we've got a long way to go," he said. But, he said "the economy is speeding up." The gathering of the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs, drew roughly 100 chief executives. But while there was polite applause when Obama was introduced, the pool report noted, “the CEOs sat silent for most of his remarks.” Private Sector Adds 216,000 Jobs (WSJ) Private-sector jobs in the U.S. increased 216,000 last month, according to a national employment report published by payroll giant Automatic Data Processing Inc. and consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers. The gain was close to expectations of 215,000 put forth by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. Alleged accomplice of Manhattan 'madam' indicted, remains on the lam (NYP) Accused millionaire madam Anna Gristina had an alleged partner in crime -- gorgeous strawberry-blonde Jaynie Baker, who three sources told The Post yesterday is Gristina's indicted but unapprehended accomplice. "She was running the operation with Anna," said one source with knowledge of the operation. Asked where Baker, 30, of Brooklyn, is currently, the source answered, "Nobody knows." Baker and Gristina are both charged with felony promoting prostitution for allegedly co-running an Upper East Side-based escort service that offered premium call girls to a millionaire clientele. "This was the gold standard of escort services," said a second source with knowledge of the operation. "These were high-end models who cost $2,000 a visit, and were worth every penny." World’s Richest Lose $11.3B, Mittal Falls Off Index (Bloomberg on Bloomberg) The 20 richest people on Earth lost a combined $11.3 billion yesterday as global markets fell after European economic growth slowed and investors weighed Greece’s chances of getting bondholders to accept a debt swap. Warren Buffett’s fortune fell $407.3 million, dropping his net worth to $43.9 billion. The chairman of Omaha, Nebraska- based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/B), his investment holding company, ranks third on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s richest people. Bernanke Seen Accepting Faster Inflation as Fed Seeks Jobs Boost (Bloomberg) The Fed chairman told lawmakers last week that an increase in energy costs will boost inflation “temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power.” He also said the central bank will adopt a “balanced approach” as it pursues its twin goals of price stability and full employment, which it defines as a jobless rate of between 5.2 percent and 6 percent. “The chairman seemed to suggest they will tolerate a misdemeanor on inflation as unemployment continues to fall toward their goal” over several years, said Mark Spindel, chief investment officer at Potomac River Capital, a hedge fund that manages $250 million in Washington. President Presses for Action on the Buffett Rule (WSJ) President Barack Obama took an aggressive tack on taxes at a White House news conference Tuesday, suggesting that Congress adopt his proposal for a so-called Buffett rule this year. It would require very high income earners—those making $1 million a year or more—to pay at least 30% of their income in federal tax. Newt Gingrich: 'I am the tortoise' of the 2012 Republican primary (The Hill) Newt Gingrich heralded himself as the "tortoise" of the 2012 Republican primary after a strong win in Georgia — the state he represented for two decades in Congress — and pledged to fight on for the Republican presidential nomination despite an otherwise poor showing in the Super Tuesday contests. "There are lots of bunny rabbits who run through — I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time," Gingrich told a crowd of supporters in Atlanta.