‘This Market Is Nuts’: S&P 500 Hits Record, Defying Economic Devastation [NYT]
To those outside Wall Street, the market’s rise may appear inexplicable given the human and economic toll of the virus, and a stalemate in Washington that has paralyzed efforts to provide more relief that many businesses and workers desperately need. Still, investors have cast the nearly relentless drumbeat of bad news aside to focus on any signs that the worst might be over….
Investors are taking into account the fact that the virus, which had seen a recent surge that threatened to set back much of the country a second time, has shown signs of abating, with the number of new cases declining by 16 percent over the last 14 days, according to data compiled by The New York Times. Expectations for 2020 corporate profits, formulated by Wall Street analysts, seem to have stopped plummeting. Also, slow but notable progress toward a vaccine, which many manufacturers and public health experts say could be ready by next year, has made many investors bullish.

Scaramucci Warns Against S&P 500 Concentration: ‘It Doesn’t Feel Right to Me’ [Cheddar]
“I’m worried about [the tech sector],” he said. “You’ve got a high concentration now in the S&P 500 in five or six names, and every time that that’s happened -- and I’ve been doing this for 32 years -- every time that that's happened, it ends in tears….”
“You get what’s called multiple compression. It happened to the Nifty 50 in the 1970s. Everybody said just buy Coca-Cola, Kimberly-Clark, Alcoa, these great companies and just hold them… [eventually] you lost value in those names. I'm worried about that….”
I do think it's, by and large, a good thing anytime that you can broaden investor capital and broaden the enthusiasm for being in the stock market," he said in response to massive millennial and first-time investor interest in the no-fee trading app. Scaramucci compared Robinhood to the origins of Charles Schwab. “I like it, I wish those guys well.”

Mnuchin Says Stimulus Talks Remain Stalled [WSJ]
“Speaker Pelosi is coming back to look at Postal; hopefully she’ll be more interested in sitting down,” the Treasury secretary said in an interview on CNBC…. Mr. Mnuchin on Tuesday gave little indication that the battle lines have budged, saying, “I really don’t know,” when asked why a deal seems so far off….
“We started with a trillion dollars. We agreed to increase that in several areas in an effort to compromise,” he said. “They didn’t come down. They never made us a proposal at two trillion; they never gave us a line-by-line counter.”

Trump Lends Support To Billionaire Donor Larry Ellison As He Backs Oracle's Bid For TikTok [Forbes]
“I think Oracle is a great company, and I think its owner is a tremendous guy. He’s a tremendous person. I think that Oracle would be certainly somebody that could handle it….” In February, [Oracle founder Larry] Ellison organized a fundraiser for Trump’s campaign where supporters could pay $100,000 for a golf outing and photo op with the president, an event that led to protests by Oracle employees….
Oracle’s planned bid for TikTok also involves venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic, both of whom are investors in TikTok’s parent ByteDance.

The Latest Pain Trade on Wall Street: Banks [WSJ]
Hedge fund M3 Partners… has lost 12.8% for the year through July, its worst year so far—and that is one of the stronger returns for a financials fund this year…. The KBW Nasdaq Bank Index has fallen 33.1% this year; the S&P 500 is up 6.2%, including dividends….
Funds including Castine Capital Management in Boston have told clients they are shutting down. Emanuel “Manny” Friedman’s EJF Capital was down 19.8% for the year through July in his $2.1 billion Debt Opportunities fund from credit positions tied to banks and insurers, and more in a smaller financials fund.

Citi Resigns Role on Brigade CLO Deal Amid Escalating Loan Feud [Bloomberg]
The bank stepped down from its role on Brigade’s $400 million Battalion XVIII CLO transaction, which was due to price Wednesday. It sent a notice of termination to the firm Tuesday, citing failure of certain conditions set forth in its engagement letter…. Brigade and other parties on the CLO are working on finding a replacement to Citigroup, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing a private transaction.

Short Seller Spruce Point Says GFL Understates Debt; Stock Falls [BloombergQuint]
Shares of waste management company GFL Environmental Inc. fell as much as 12% after a New York hedge fund released a report questioning its accounting and its “aggressive and opaque business model….”
“Spruce Point believes that without access to new capital, the Company’s shares are worthless and likely uninvestable for institutional investors,” the report states.

Rev. Al Sharpton calls for sale of Mets to Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez [N.Y. Daily News]
“The decision on who should earn the right to buy one of New York’s most treasured cultural institutions — the Mets — represents a significant opportunity for Major League Baseball to take a strong public stand in favor of racial equity by ensuring the team’s new ownership are people of color,” Sharpton wrote in a letter he planned to send Wednesday…. J Lo and A-Rod have reportedly made one of three offers to buy the long-suffering Mets, the others being from hedge fund tycoon Steve Cohen and a group headed by the managing partners of the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers.

Related

Cryan.CalmDown

Opening Bell: 7.25.17

John Cryan opens up (kind of); Goldman bids adieu to ETF market making; Wisconsin company literally getting under employees' skin; and more.

Opening Bell: 12.17.12

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

Opening Bell: 10.10.12

Banks Must Cut Deeper to Help Stock Prices, McKinsey Says (Bloomberg) Banks must make deeper and more sweeping cost reductions if they want to restore profitability levels that are acceptable to investors, McKinsey & Co. said in an annual review of the industry. “It has to go a lot further,” Toos Daruvala, a director in the consulting firm’s North American banking practice and a co-author of the report, said yesterday in a phone interview. “Banks have done quite a lot on cost-cutting but frankly the environment has deteriorated over the last year” because of economic weakness, he said. Argentina rejects Singer’s $20M in ransom for ship’s release (NYP) At a court hearing today in Ghana, where hedge fund manager Paul Singer’s lawyers are holding the ARA Libertad hostage, a lawyer for Argentina argued that Singer had no right to detain the ship because it’s a military vessel and immune from seizure. Lawyer Larry Otoo called the seizure — a move by Singer to force Argentina to repay a $1.6 billion debt he says he’s owed — an embarrassment to Ghana and demanded the ship’s immediate return. The court is expected to rule Thursday on whether to release the ship. Singer, the head of hedge fund giant Elliot Management, is seeking to recoup some of the $600 million in bonds he purchased as Argentina was headed for default in 2001. Elliot bought the bonds at steep discounts, paying as little as 15 cents on the dollar in some cases, but has since won judgments of as much as $1.6 billion. Elliot’s NML Capital unit is pursuing Argentina’s assets all over the world in an effort to collect on its debt. In Gupta Sentencing, A Judgment Call (WSJ) Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. director Rajat Gupta is the highest-profile of more than 70 defendants convicted of insider trading in New York federal court in the past three years. But this month he will likely receive a more lenient sentence than the 11-year-prison term given to Raj Rajaratnam, to whom Mr. Gupta provided his illegal leaks, legal experts say. The sentence may have reverberations beyond the 63-year-old Mr. Gupta, a former chief of consulting giant McKinsey & Co. It will be widely watched in executive suites nationwide because it will be among the first handed down to a major corporate figure in the recent insider-trading crackdown. Previous sentences have largely involved traders, lawyers, lower-rung corporate employees and others. Mr. Gupta, who was convicted in June of three counts of securities fraud relating to tips about Goldman and one count of conspiracy, didn't trade or profit directly from his illegal tips. Before the conviction, he had a long and stellar career in corporate America and philanthropy. All this will be balanced against the nature of the crimes and the need to discourage others from similar offenses when U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff hands down his sentence, scheduled for Oct. 24. Judge Rakoff often imposes sentences further below federal sentencing guidelines than some other judges do, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis...Since 2010, Judge Rakoff has imposed an average sentence of 21 months on insider-trading defendants who didn't cooperate with prosecutors—about 38% below the guideline minimum, according to the Journal analysis. By comparison, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan issued seven sentences in that period averaging 6.3% below the guideline minimum. U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty issued three sentences at 20.3% less than the minimum. Goldman Pushes On Limits In Volcker Rule (WSJ) Some executives at the New York company believe they have found a way to extricate the credit funds from proposed limits on how much can be invested in hedge funds and private-equity funds, according to people briefed on the efforts. The Volcker rule caps a bank's total investments in hedge funds and private-equity funds at 3% of its so-called Tier-1 capital. It also prevents any single bank from accounting for more than 3% of a fund's investments. Those limits are among the biggest components of the rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and designed to curtail risk-taking among financial firms. The rule is the most contentious part of the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law of 2010 but, like much of the rest of the legislation, the details of its implementation are still being worked out. Credit funds lend to companies that might not otherwise get financing, such as companies backed by private-equity firms, and tend to hold their investments to maturity while using a limited amount of leverage. Goldman has argued in meetings with regulators and in letters to them that these funds function like banks, just with a different structure, according to public records and the people familiar with the efforts. Report: 20% of US Firms Cook the Books During Earnings (CNBC) ...a new report by finance professors at Emory and Duke University raises questions about the quality of earnings in general. In an anonymous survey of CFOs last year, the study found that at least 20% of companies are "managing" earnings and using aggressive accounting methods to legally alter the outcome of their earnings reports. Of the 20% of companies that manipulated their earnings to hit a target, Graham says, a surprising 40% did so to the downside, not the upside, to pad and improve future quarters' earnings. Banks Chasing Asian Millionaires Create Singapore’s Canary Wharf (Bloomberg) Singapore’s Marina Bay area is emerging as the city’s new financial hub, with banks including Standard Chartered Plc and Barclays taking bigger offices as they pursue Asia’s expanding ranks of millionaires. Corrections & Amplifications (WSJ via Lauren Tara LaCapra) "Annie Hubbard, the woman appearing alongside Goldman Sachs's chief financial officer, Harvey Schwartz, in a photograph with a page-one article about Goldman on Tuesday, was incorrectly identified as his wife. Mr. Schwartz isn't married." Hulk Hogan ‘devastated’ by leak of sex tape filmed six years ago with friend’s wife Heather Clem (NYDN) The wrestling star tried to explain the kinky love triangle to Howard Stern Tuesday using a thinly veiled euphemism. “Let’s say I’ve been doing laundry, brother, for this person forever, and all of a sudden this person hates the way I do laundry. And that person says, ‘You suck. I hate you. F-you every single day. I hate the way you do laundry. I’m going to find somebody else to do laundry. Somebody younger, faster, stronger,’” he said, clearly taking a jab at his ex-wife, who he was still married to at the time of the taping. “But my buddy, you know, him and his girl say, ‘Hey, you can do our laundry any time you want!’ Both of them are saying that,” he told Stern. “Finally after the person I was doing laundry with for millions and millions of years left, and all of a sudden there was nobody there to do laundry, I was depressed… I go to my buddy’s house and he says, ‘Hey man you can do this other person’s laundry that I’m partners with.’ I said, 'Sure.’” Official Warmth And Public Rage For A German Leader In Athens (NYT) ...even as Ms. Merkel said that she had come as a “good friend and a real partner,” not a “taskmaster or teacher to give grades,” the approximately 40,000 Greeks who took to the streets in protest (a rather modest number, by Greek standards) treated the visit as a provocation by the arch-nemesis in the euro crisis whose austerity medicine is obliterating the Greek middle class. Some banners read “Don’t cry for us Mrs. Merkel” and “Merkel, you are not welcome here.” A small group of protesters burned a flag bearing the Nazi swastika, while a handful of protesters dressed in Nazi-style uniforms drew cheers of approval as they rode a small vehicle past a police cordon. Variety Being Sold To Penske, Third Point (Reuters) Variety, the century-old entertainment trade newspaper once considered the bible of the movie industry, is being sold to online publisher Jay Penske and Third Point LLC for about $25 million, two sources with knowledge of the deal told Reuters. Penske and Third Point have struck a deal to buy the money-losing, 107-year-old newspaper from medical and technical publisher Reed Elsevier, which put it up for sale in March, the sources said. IMF warns eurozone on capital flight (FT) In its global financial stability report, the IMF concluded that capital flight from the eurozone’s periphery to the bloc’s core, driven by fears of a break-up of the currency union, had sparked “extreme fragmentation” of the euro area’s funding markets. The fund said this was causing renewed pressure for banks to shrink their balance sheets, particularly those in countries with fiscal woes. A Fat, Mustachioed Orphan Finds a Home (NYT) How do you transport a 234-pound baby to New York City? If he’s a 15-week-old walrus rescued from the open ocean off Alaska, the answer is a jumbo-size crate aboard a FedEx cargo jet, accompanied by a veterinarian and a handler. “If he’s calm and comfortable, no worries,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium, which will receive the walrus calf, named Mitik, on Thursday. “But his needs and comfort come first. So he may very well travel with his head in our keeper’s lap.” Since late July, Mitik and a second orphaned walrus, Pakak, have been nursed to health with bottle feedings and exercise at the Alaska SeaLife Center, an aquarium in Seward that conducts research and responds to strandings of marine mammals. (Pakak, nicknamed Pak, will arrive at the Indianapolis Zoo on Thursday.) Mitik — or Mit, for short — was weak from illness and considerably smaller than Pakak when he was found by a hunting vessel several miles offshore. Mit initially suffered from bladder problems and could not take a bottle, requiring both a catheter and feeding tube. But he is now sucking assertively from a bottle and putting on a pound a day...With his multiple chins and doleful expression, Mit is also exhibiting an undeniable pluck that should serve him well in his new surroundings. Martha Hiatt, the aquarium’s behavioral husbandry supervisor, traveled to Alaska in September to help care for him. At first, she said, Pakak totally dominated him, but no longer. “If Mit is resting with his head on my lap, sucking my fingers, looking sweetly into my eyes, and Pak comes anywhere near us, he pops up, yells at Pak and tries to head-butt him,” she said. “Then he’ll turn to me and be all cuddly again. We say he is small, but scrappy — the perfect New Yorker.”

SnapchatIPO

Opening Bell: 3.6.17

What it feels like to be the other Snap; Citi says sell; that time Steve Mnuchin's toy terrier met Dog the Bounty Hunter; and more.

Opening Bell: 10.04.12

France’s LBO Firms See ‘Death’ From Hollande’s 75% Carry Tax (Bloomberg) Hollande, who released his first annual budget on Sept. 28, plans to tax fund managers’ share of the profit from their investments, known as carried interest, at a rate of as much as 75 percent, part of a wider effort to increase taxes on the wealthy and narrow the country’s deficit. France also plans to as much as double taxes on capital gains and restrict the amount of debt interest payments a company can deduct from its taxable income, a measure that will reduce returns on leveraged buyouts. Facebook Test Turns Users Into Advertisers (FT) Facebook is testing a new product in the US that allows ordinary users to pay to promote their own status updates, marking a shift in the social network’s willingness to charge its users for a core service. The product has potential to generate revenues, analysts said, but could also threaten the organic feel of the site as people pay to market their own social lives. Mark Zuckerberg Confirms: 'I wear the same thing everyday' (DL) "I mean, I wear the same thing every day, right? I mean, it's literally, if you could see my closet," Zuckerberg starts to explain, as Lauer asks if he owns 12 of the same gray t-shirt. "Maybe about 20," Zuckerberg admits, somewhere between discussing the future of Facebook, his daily routine, the iPhone 5, and his wedding to college sweetheart Priscilla Chan last May. The Facebook CEO says that he doesn't really have much in his closet — it's mainly used by his wife, who graduated from medical school at the University of California at San Francisco shortly before their marriage. Instead, Zuckerberg's identical t-shirt collection lives in the one drawer he's allotted. Tiger Global Up 22.4 Percent (Reuters) Tiger Global, one of the world's best-performing hedge funds, ended the third quarter with strong gains, leaving the fund up 22.4 percent for the year, two people familiar with the numbers said on Wednesday. The roughly $6 billion fund, run by Chase Coleman and Feroz Dewan, has been the darling of the investment community for its string of strong returns at a time when the average hedge fund is delivering only low single-digit returns. In 2011, when most funds nursed losses, Tiger Global captured headlines with a 45 percent gain for the year after having made a good chunk of money on the short side, people familiar with the portfolio said. 'Dark Pool' And SEC Settle (WSJ) The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in its order that Boston-based broker-dealer eBX LLC allowed the third-party operator of its trading platform, called LeveL ATS, to use details on client orders, including the stocks involved and whether they were buy or sell orders, to its own advantage. That operator is Lava Trading, an electronic-trading unit of Citigroup, according to eBX. eBX agreed to pay $800,000 to settle the SEC's allegations. It did so without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Mohamed El-Erian: No corner offices at PIMCO (Fortune) "It doesn't matter whether you're CEO or whether you're an associate, you have the same size office. No corner offices. Just a conference room. And then I knew that I had made the right decision when my very first outing with PIMCO, I had come from the IMF, 15 years working on emerging markets. I had a swagger, I thought I knew what I was talking about. I put forward my view, and this summer intern felt safe enough to get up and say, "You know what? Mohamed is wrong and this is why he's wrong." The fact that PIMCO had created this safe zone where a summer intern could get up and question someone who was supposed to be an expert confirmed to me that I was in the right place." Bank-Friendly U.S. Regulator Shifts Focus to Revamp Reputation (Bloomberg) In a stately hearing room stuffed with senators and bankers, Thomas Curry began his apologies. His agency should have stopped a major bank from helping drug cartels launder cash. The violations went on for years while his agency was overly passive. “I deeply regret we did not act sooner,” he said. Curry had been on the job for just over three months on that day in July, so the mistakes hadn’t been made on his watch. His apologies were less a confession than a signal the new Comptroller of the Currency -- long seen as the most bank- friendly of U.S. regulators -- was changing course. “I’m not interested in what people thought about in the past,” Curry said in an interview. “My focus is going forward.” Since he took over in March, at least two key staff members closely associated with the agency’s pro-industry stance have departed, notably chief counsel Julie Williams. Williams, a 19- year OCC veteran, was known for helping nationally chartered banks resist state regulation by arguing they were preempted by often less-stringent federal rules. Curry has also raised the profile of consumer protection and shifted focus toward “operational risk” -- the idea that bank practices and management can pose as much of a threat to safety and soundness as external forces. Argentine Navy Ship Seized In Asset Fight (FT) An Argentine naval vessel crewed by more than 200 sailors has been seized in Ghana as part of an attempt by the US hedge fund Elliott Capital Management to collect on bonds on which Buenos Aires defaulted in 2001. A Ghanaian court ordered an injunction and interim preservation order against the ARA Libertad, a 100-metre long tall ship, following an application by Elliott subsidiary NML Capital on Tuesday. The hedge fund, run by the US billionaire Paul Singer, has been closely monitoring the course of the Libertad, according to sources familiar with the firm. Elliott had been waiting for the ship to stop in a port where it would have a chance to enforce legal judgments previously awarded by UK and US courts. The hedge fund declined to comment. Argentina slammed the interception of the Libertad as a “trick which these unscrupulous financiers” had pulled, adding that it “violates the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity”. Morgan Stanley commodities talks with Qatar hit snag (Reuters) Morgan Stanley's talks with Qatar's sovereign wealth fund over the sale of its commodities business have run into difficulty, and the deal may need to be reworked if it is to go ahead, banking sources said. One of the top banks in commodity trading over the past 30 years, Morgan Stanley has been in discussion for more than a year with Qatar over the sale of at least a majority stake in the energy-focused trading business, the bankers said. "There have been some differences, and Qatar is a bit lukewarm about it," one said. "It's not dead yet but definitely not imminent." Maple syrup stolen in Quebec seized by police in New Brunswick (The Star) Quebec police have seized between 700 and 800 barrels of maple syrup from a New Brunswick exporter, linking the drums to August’s massive heist of the sweet stuff. Étienne St-Pierre, owner of S.K. Exports in Kedgwick, N.B., told the Star that police executed a search warrant Sept. 26 and hauled away the barrels. “They said they were searching to find some stolen drums from Quebec,” he said. “It was a surprise. That was the first news I received.” St-Pierre said each barrel weighs about 270 kilograms and holds 170 litres of syrup, meaning police seized at least 119,000 litres of gooey Quebec gold. A spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec, Sgt. Bruno Beaulieu, confirmed a search warrant had been executed in Kedgwick but said he could not comment on the investigation. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers has never revealed the amount of syrup stolen from its secure St-Louis-de-Blandford, Que. warehouse in August. The facility held about 3.75 million litres of syrup, enough to fill one and a half Olympic swimming pools. St-Pierre said he obtained the barrels from a regular Quebec supplier, who he refused to identify.

Opening Bell: 05.18.12

Facebook Employees Spend All Night Programming (DJ) Tech geeks across the Facebook empire — including the New York office — celebrated the company’s IPO and their newfound millions by slugging back energy drinks at all-night code-writing parties. Legions of the social network’s employees, who will be worth an average of $2.9 million apiece on paper when the stock opens trading this morning, dressed for the occasion with matching “Hackathon” T-shirts. They kicked off the party at their Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, just hours after the company’s 420 million available shares were priced at $38 each. The festivities were expected to rage through the night until founder Mark Zuckerberg rings the Nasdaq opening bell via video feed at 9:30 a.m. Inside JPMorgan's Blunder (WSJ) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James Dimon had just committed the most expensive blunder of his 30-year career, failing to detect the risk of trades that had begun to generate huge losses at the bank. On April 30, associates who were gathered in a conference room handed Mr. Dimon summaries and analyses of the losses. But there were no details about the trades themselves. "I want to see the positions!" he barked, throwing down the papers, according to attendees. "Now! I want to see everything!" When Mr. Dimon saw the numbers, these people say, he couldn't breathe...Mr. Dimon publicly disclosed the losses in a conference call on May 10. Afterward, he told Mr. Lee: "Maybe I can sleep tonight," according to a person familiar with the conversation...Late that Friday night, several executives gathered in Mr. Dimon's office. Messrs. Dimon and Cavanagh drank vodka. Others had wine. They told their boss how they had let down the firm, attendees say. "We all did," Mr. Dimon replied, according to attendees. "Put on your JPM jerseys and get ready. We are going to take a lot of hits. We'll draft our best team and get through this." Defiant Message From Greece (WSJ) "Our first choice is to convince our European partners that, in their own interest, financing must not be stopped," Mr. Tsipras said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. He said Greece doesn't intend to take any unilateral action, "but if they proceed with unilateral action on their side, in other words they cut off our funding, then we will be forced to stop paying our creditors, to go to a suspension in payments to our creditors." Groupon Stock Spike Probed (WSJ) A Wall Street regulator is examining trading in Groupon that sent its stock price soaring hours before a favorable earnings announcement Monday, according to a person familiar with the matter. The review by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, is at an early stage, the person said. It follows unusually heavy trading in shares of the online-coupon company in the run-up to its release of strong financial results. Ex-ECB Chief Trichet Unveils Bold Plan to Save Euro (Reuters) Europe could strengthen its monetary union by giving European politicians the power to declare a sovereign state bankrupt and take over its fiscal policy, the former head of the European Central Bank said on Thursday in unveiling a bold proposal to salvage the euro. Russian man gets stuck in building's garbage chute while trying to hide from girlfriend (NYDN) A Russian man went to great lengths to hide from his girlfriend on Wednesday night when he jumped into a garbage chute on the eighth floor of his apartment building. The unidentified man slid down the chute until he became stuck on the fifth floor of the building in Tyumen, Siberia. Authorities confirmed that they were told of the situation after people in the building heard the man's cries for help. Rescuers used a Jaws-of-Life tool to free the man, according to reports. Santander Among 16 Spanish Banks Downgraded By Moody’s (Bloomberg) "Banks will continue to face highly adverse operating and market funding conditions that pose a threat to their creditworthiness,” the ratings firm said. “The Spanish economy has fallen back into recession in first-quarter 2012, and Moody’s does not expect conditions to improve” this year. Marc Faber: China Biggest Threat To Global Economy (CNBC) "I think the biggest risk is actually China because if you look at Greece, it's an insignificant economy," Faber said on CNBC Asia's “Capital Connection.” "Yes, they owe money, but the market knows that it's bankrupt." German Finance Minister Sees Two Years Of Turmoil (Bloomberg) German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that turmoil in the financial markets caused by Europe’s debt crisis may last another two years, as Group of Eight leaders prepared to discuss Greece and its impact on the global economy. More than 2 1/2 years after Greece revealed its bloated budget deficit, Europe has “known a lot of crisis,” Schaeuble said in a recorded interview broadcast today on France’s Europe 1 radio. “It’s practically normal.” Even so, “in 12 to 24 months we’ll see a calming of financial markets,” he said.

Opening Bell: 01.09.13

UBS Says Cleaning Up Its Act After Libor 'Shocker' (Reuters) UBS has yet to fully purge itself of a global interest rate scandal that has cost the Swiss bank its reputation and put it at risk of a wave of costly civil suits, its investment banking chief said on Wednesday. The once-venerable institution was fined a record $1.5 billion last month for manipulating Libor interest rates, the latest in a string of scandals including a $2.3 billion rogue trading loss and a damaging tax avoidance row with the United States. "We are very focused on recovering the honor and standing the organisation had in the past," Andrea Orcel told Britain's Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, set up in the aftermath of the Libor scandal. "I am convinced that we have made a lot of progress. I am also convinced that we still need to do more." [...] Committee member Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, asked Orcel if he was the right man to turn UBS around. "I feel I have a high level of integrity," the banker said. Orcel said that UBS was working at simplifying the investment banking business to make it less risky and prone to scandal. The committee, a cross-party panel of lawmakers headed by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, is switching its focus to standards and culture after spending most of the past three months assessing structural reform. Tyrie on Wednesday described the Libor rigging as "a shocker of enormous proportions". Button-Down Central Bank Bets It All (WSJ) Switzerland, for decades a paragon of safety in finance, is engaged in a high-risk strategy to protect its export-driven economy, literally betting the bank in a fight to contain the prices of Swiss products sold abroad. The nation's central bank is printing and selling as many Swiss francs as needed to keep its currency from climbing against the euro, wagering an amount approaching Switzerland's total national output, and, in the process, turning from button-down conservative to the globe's biggest risk-taker. JPMorgan Overhaul Widens (WSJ) The shift of Mr. Maclin and the departure of Mr. Staley, who once was seen as a top candidate to succeed James Dimon as chief executive, are the latest steps in a drastic reshaping of J.P. Morgan's executive suite. Many of the new leaders—a group that includes corporate and investment-bank co-heads Mike Cavanagh and Daniel Pinto, co-chief operating officer Matthew Zames and Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake—are in their 40s. Mr. Cavanagh and Mr. Zames, who were asked last May to unwind a series of botched bets placed by a trader in the bank's Chief Investment Office known as the "London whale," are viewed as front runners for the top job, said people close to the bank. Ackman Braces for Legal Battle Over Herbalife (FBN) If filed, the lawsuit could involve alleged “tortuous interference,” implying Ackman intentionally damaged Herbalife’s business relationships, people close to Ackman said. On Tuesday, a large Herbalife distributor said he was leaving the company and called on other distributors to join him amid the controversy. In a sign of the importance of its distribution channels, Herbalife says in regulatory filings its relationship with and ability to influence distributors are items that can “materially” affect its financial condition. As of late Tuesday, people with knowledge of the matter said no decision on timing or even if a lawsuit will actually be filed had been made. The company has told FOX Business it is weighing legal action against Ackman. Ackman declined to comment on the matter. Herbalife has hired famed attorney David Boies to launch possible litigation against Ackman as well as the investment bank Moelis & Co., as its financial adviser. Goldman Will Report Fund Values Each Day (WSJ) In a reversal of industry practice, Goldman Sachs Group will begin disclosing the values of its money-market mutual funds daily rather than monthly, according to people familiar with the company's plans. Some of the changes will take effect as early as Wednesday...According to people familiar with Goldman's thinking, the company is beefing up its disclosures to satisfy investors' calls for greater transparency on fluctuations in the price of their investments. Brazil prostitutes to learn English ahead of World Cup (AP) Prostitutes in one of Brazil's biggest cities are beginning to sign up for free English classes ahead of this year's Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup. The president of the Association of Prostitutes of the city of Belo Horizonte says by telephone that 20 have already signed up for the courses and she expects at least 300 of the group's 4,000 members to follow suit. The association is organizing the classes and seeking volunteer teachers. Prostitution is legal in Brazil. Belo Horizonte will host six World Cup matches and Vieira said Tuesday "it will be important for the girls will be able to use English to let their clients know what they are charging and learn about what turns them on." AIG Cites Duty to Weigh Suing U.S. as Lawmaker Criticism Mounts (Bloomberg, related) American International Group said it has a duty to weigh joining a suit by former Chief Executive Officer Maurice “Hank” Greenberg that claims the insurer’s 2008 U.S. bailout was unconstitutional. “The board of directors has fiduciary and legal obligations to the company and its shareholders to consider the demand served on us,” CEO Robert Benmosche said yesterday in a statement. The board is scheduled to meet today to hear arguments from representatives of Greenberg and the U.S. Lawmakers including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Robert Menendez and Representative Peter Welch said New York-based AIG shouldn’t join the suit. “Taxpayers are still furious that they rescued a company whose own conduct brought it down,” Welch said in a letter to AIG Chairman Steve Miller. “Don’t rub salt in the wounds with yet another reckless decision.” Vow of New Light For 'Dark' Trades (WSJ) Richard Ketchum, chief executive of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, said in an interview Tuesday that the regulator is expanding its oversight of the dark-trading venues, with an eye on whether orders placed in public exchanges are "trying to move prices or encourage sellers that may advance their trading in the dark market." The regulator also is boosting its surveillance of high-speed trading and is increasingly looking at rapid-fire trading across exchanges, he said. "You're going to see more [focus] in those areas in 2013," Mr. Ketchum said. Goldman, Morgan Stanley to Settle on Foreclosures (Reuters) Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among a group of banks expected to agree as soon as this week to a $1.5 billion settlement with federal regulators over botched foreclosure claims, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The accord would come on the heels of a separate $8.5 billion settlement announced on Monday with 10 bigger mortgage servicers, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo...Goldman and Morgan Stanley's respective roles in the settlement stems from mortgage-servicing businesses that the two investment banks purchased in the run-up to the subprime mortgage crisis, and have since sold. Goldman had owned Litton Loan Servicing and Morgan Stanley owned Saxon Capital. Taco Bell responds to teen's request for a custom Speedo (LI) The week before Christmas, 15-year-old Ryan Klarner posted on Taco Bell’s Facebook page, introducing himself with a rundown of his swimming and diving achievements before making an offbeat request. “[I]s there any way you guys could make me a customized Speedo that says think outside the buns on the back of it? If you did, that would mean the world to me,” the Illinois teen asked...Klarner said he first came up with the idea a couple of years earlier and decided last month to go ahead and ask, even though he never had asked a company on Facebook for anything before. “I did not expect it to blow up as much as it has. I didn’t really expect to get the Speedo out of it, either,” he said. But last Wednesday, the social media team at Taco Bell wrote back. “What size do you wear? And what’s your address?” “He really wanted something and he went after it,” Tressie Lieberman, director of digital and social engagement, said. When we think people are really extraordinary...then we want to reward them.”