Stocks Edge Higher as Earnings Season Marches On [WSJ]
“The market’s assumption is that the U.S. economy is not yet ready to stand on its own two feet. It appears that there is agreement that more needs to be done, it’s just about the shape of that package,” said Hugh Gimber, strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management…. More than three-quarters of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings, with the majority beating analyst expectations, according to UBS. This has led estimates for the third quarter to rise by 2.5% since the end of June.

Hedge funds scour alternative data for edge on Covid and economy [FT]
Michael Spellacy, global head of capital markets at consultancy Accenture, said hedge funds had profited this year from methods such as comparing social media posts in China with Chinese government statements to gauge the extent of the virus’s impact, as well as collecting data on the movement of Chinese container ships to monitor activity. “In this particular crisis, it’s become extremely valuable,” he said…. In June, Swiss investment firm Unigestion began using sentiment signals from a “newscaster” that reads media articles from providers such as the Financial Times and analyst notes in its funds, after finding it improved the performance of its model portfolios during the coronavirus crisis. “It permitted us to get out of equities sooner and permitted us getting [back] into equities sooner,” said chief executive Fiona Frick.

KKR Reports Second-Quarter Profit Amid Financial-Market Recovery [WSJ]
The company posted a second-quarter profit of $707 million, or $1.24 a share, compared with a profit of $522.7 million, or 93 cents a share, in the same quarter a year ago…./Assets under management grew 8% to $221.8 billion in the latest quarter due to new capital raised under several of the company’s focus areas and appreciation in its public- and private-market portfolios. New capital raised in the period was $16 billion, which KKR said was a record quarterly figure for the company.

Argentina clinches deal with creditors to restructure $65 billion debt, bonds rise [CNBC]
Rising poverty and unemployment, as well as soaring interest rates amid an already two-year-long recession, had the country of roughly 45 million in dire financial straits even before the virus hit.
On May 22, Argentina saw its ninth sovereign debt default after missing overdue interest payments.

Google signs up six more partners for its digital banking platform coming to Google Pay [TechCrunch]
The new partners include Bank Mobile, BBVA USA, BMO Harris, Coastal Community Bank, First Independence Bank and SEFCU. They join Google’s existing partners Citi and SFCU, announced earlier, for a total of now eight banks lined up for the project…. The company says it plans to add even more U.S. financial institutions over time.

Twitter Expects to Pay Up to $250 Million in FTC Fine Over Alleged Privacy Violations [Variety]
Twitter said that on July 28 it received a draft complaint from the Federal Trade Commission alleging the company violated a 2011 consent order, which required Twitter to establish an information-security program designed to “protect non-public consumer information.”
“The allegations relate to the Company’s use of phone number and/or email address data provided for safety and security purposes for targeted advertising during periods between 2013 and 2019,” Twitter said in the filing.

Millennials, Gen Zers say pandemic has derailed their financial independence [USA Today]
About 59% of young Americans say the pandemic has derailed their goal of becoming financially independent from family or other support, according to a new report by The Harris Poll on behalf of TD Ameritrade….
Young millennials in particular feel that the odds are against them, crippled by rising living costs and student loan debt. About 82% said their salary levels have remained the same while the cost of living rises, making it difficult to achieve financial independence. And about 42% say their student debt alone makes them think they’ll never be independent.

WeWork Sheds Youthful Image as It Lures Big Corporations [WSJ]
The second quarter marked the first time that companies with more than 500 employees made up more than half of WeWork’s core revenue, excluding its China and India operations, the company said…. “There’s a set of employees that are not going to be near an office and that are not going to have a great work-from-home setup. And I think that’s where a co-working or serviced-office provider comes in,” Mr. Vartanian said.

Men’s Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank Parent to Pivot to Casual Attire in Chapter 11 [WSJ]
The Fremont, Calif., company said it wants to speed up plans to mix its products as sales of tailored clothing decrease. It intends to focus more on its selection of polished casual clothing, including sport coats, pants, dress shirts and sportswear…. Fitch Ratings Inc. said the bankruptcy of Tailored Brands has lifted the year-to-date default volume for institutional leveraged loans to $50 billion, with retailers accounting for 20% of the defaults so far, the most of any sector. 

Related

Opening Bell: 11.16.12

JPMorgan Faces US Action (WSJ) Regulators are expected to serve J.P. Morgan Chase with a formal action alleging weaknesses in the bank's antimoney-laundering systems, said people close to the situation. The cease-and-desist order from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is part of a broader crackdown on the nation's largest banks, the people said. The OCC is expected to require J.P. Morgan to beef up its procedures and examine past transactions, these people said...The unusually blunt tone of the OCC's meetings with large banks on Nov. 8-9 spread quickly among bank executives. Some viewed the meeting as an attempt by the OCC to counter the perception that it had been too cozy with the banking industry and to step out of the shadows of the year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has been aggressive about publicizing enforcement actions and fines levied on banks. "It was a spanking," said one senior bank executive who didn't attend the meeting but heard about it from colleagues. "The message was, 'You are living in a world of zero tolerance,'" said another bank executive briefed on the meeting. FHA To Exhaust Capital Reserves (WSJ) The Federal Housing Administration's projected losses hit $16.3 billion at the end of September, according to an independent annual audit to be released Friday, a much larger figure than had been forecast earlier. The report suggests the FHA will require taxpayer funding for the first time in its 78 years, though that won't be decided until early next year. Citigroup Seeing FX Signals of Early End to Stimulus (Bloomberg) “Does the market really believe that the 2015 Fed is going to be constrained by the 2012 Fed?” Steven Englander, Citigroup’s New York-based global head of G-10 strategy, said in a telephone interview from New York. “The answer is ‘no.’” UK Bank Bailout Money ‘May Never Be Recovered’: Report (CNBC) “There is a risk that the 66 billion pounds invested in RBS and Lloyds may never be recovered,” Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, warned in a report into the sale of taxpayer-backed Northern Rock. Banks Seen Shrinking for Good as Layoffs Near 160,000 (Reuters) Major banks have announced some 160,000 job cuts since early last year and with more layoffs to come as the industry restructures, many will leave the shrinking sector for good as redundancies outpace new hires by roughly 2-to-1...Well-paid investment bankers are bearing the brunt of cost cuts as deals dry up and trading income falls. That is particularly the case in some activities such as stock trading, where low volumes and thin margins are squeezing banks. "When I let go tons of people in cash equities this year, I knew most would be finished in this business. It is pretty dead. Some will just have to find something completely different to do," said one top executive at an international bank in London, on condition of anonymity. Twinkies Maker to Liquidate, Lay Off 18,500 (Reuters) Hostess Brands, the bankrupt maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, said it had sought court permission to go out of business after failing to get wage and benefit cuts from thousands of its striking bakery workers...Irving, Texas-based Hostess has 565 distribution centers and 570 bakery outlet stores, as well as the 33 bakeries. Its brands include Wonder, Nature's Pride, Dolly Madison, Drake's, Butternut, Home Pride, and Merita, but it is probably best known for Twinkies — basically a cream-filled sponge cake. Lagarde on Greece: 'Not Over Till the Fat Lady Sings' (Reuters) "It is a question of working hard, putting our mind to it, making sure that we focus on the same objective which is that the country in particular, Greece, can operate on a sustainable basis, can recover, can get back on its feet, can reaccess markets as early as possible," Lagarde said when asked about the possibility of a Greek deal next week. "It is not over until the fat lady sings as the saying goes." Alabama secessionist says working people must unite to save America, Bring Back His Topless Carwash (AL) “Derrick B.,” the man who started a petition seeking Alabama’s withdrawal from the U.S., is a truck driving, knife collecting former owner of a topless car wash who describes himself as “an absolute Libertarian.” Derrick Belcher, 45, of Chunchula, said in an interview late Monday that secession may be the only way to save working Americans from crushing debt, burdensome federal regulations and rising taxes. “I don’t want to live in Russia. I don’t believe in socialism,” said Belcher, an operations manager for a Mobile trucking company. “America is supposed to be free.” Belcher blamed the government for shutting down his former business. Belcher said his Euro Details car wash, which featured topless women, was successful for a decade on Halls Mill Road in Mobile. But he said he was arrested and charged with obscenity by city officials in 2001. “The government ripped my business away, and now they’re choking America to death with rules and regulations,” he said. Belcher said he fully expects the petition to reach 25,000 signatures -– in fact, he’s aiming far higher, saying he’d like to double that number to ensure that it is recognized by the White House. He said the petition got a jump start at a gun and knife show held at the Greater Gulf State Fairgrounds last weekend. Tiger Global To Give Investors (Some Of) Their Money Back (NYP) Hedge-fund honchos rarely return capital voluntarily. Recently, Moore Capital’s Louis Bacon gave money back to investors, but it was because the poorly performing fund couldn’t find enough investing opportunities. That’s clearly not the case for Tiger Global, which has gained 25.5 percent so far this year. “We continue to believe that managing a smaller asset base gives us the best chance to generate strong returns over the long-term,” the managers wrote in a Nov. 9 letter to investors Journalist To Be Tried Again Over Swiss Bank List (Reuters) Greek journalist who published the names of more than 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts will stand trial again after a prosecutor appealed a decision to acquit him of breaking data privacy laws, court officials said on Friday. The speedy arrest, trial and acquittal of magazine editor Costas Vaxevanis for publishing the so-called "Lagarde List" had aroused international concern and captivated recession-weary Greeks angry at the privileges of the elite. The Athens Public Prosecutor's office said the November 1 acquittal was faulty and that Vaxevanis must be tried again by a higher misdemeanor court on the same charges. If found guilty, Vaxevanis could be jailed for up to two years or face a fine. T-Mobile customer stabbed while disputing bill (Philly) A customer who went to an Upper Darby T-Mobile store Tuesday to complain about his bill left with a stab wound to his abdomen that police said had been inflicted by an employee. Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said the 59-year-old victim went to the store on State Road near Lansdowne Avenue about 1:15 p.m. to complain about being double-billed. What started out as a conversation between the customer and employee Darnell Schoolfield devolved into a physical confrontation, police said. During the fight, the customer ripped Schoolfield's name tag from his shirt and took the tag to the Upper Darby police station to file an assault complaint. "During the course of filing the complaint, he realizes he's bleeding profusely from the left side of the stomach," Chitwood said. "He'd thought he was just punched." The victim was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he had surgery and was listed in serious condition. It's unknown what Schoolfield used to allegedly stab the victim or how their interaction went so awry.

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.”

Opening Bell: 11.05.12

Wall Street Pay Rises (WSJ) Wall Street pay will bounce in 2012 from last year's sharply reduced levels, but bonuses will be lower and have more strings attached than before the financial crisis, the latest tally of finance-industry compensation shows. So-called incentive-based pay, which includes cash and stock awards, is set to be flat to up 5% to 10% from a year earlier, according to a forecast set to be released Monday by consulting firm Johnson Associates. At the same time, financial firms are keeping a lid on cash outlays by deferring more pay and trimming their workforces...Many securities-industry employees still rake in far more in pay than most other professions. But gone are the days when scores of star traders would get million-dollar, year-end windfalls. The average managing director is set to take home about $930,000 in total pay for 2012, up 3.3% from $900,000 a year ago but down about 23% from $1.2 million in 2010...Reflecting a big rebound from last year's plunge, the survey said bond traders—among the hardest hit in terms of pay in 2011—could see their bonuses rise 10% to 20%, even though several firms are scaling back fixed-income trading operations. Investment bankers and equity traders may receive as much as 10% less in bonuses than last year. Equity volumes remain weak, while global merger and acquisition volume is down 16% to $1.7 trillion through the first nine months of the year, according to Thomson Reuters. Goldman Sachs Partner List Drops 31 Since February, Filing Shows (Bloomberg) Some of the names missing from the latest filing had already been reported, such as former Securities Division Co- Head David B. Heller and Lucas van Praag, the former head of corporate communications. Others hadn’t been announced. Economy Set for Better Times Whether Obama or Romney Wins (Bloomberg) Mitt Romney says Barack Obama’s policies will consign the U.S. to an extended period of sluggish economic growth, at best. The president says his Republican challenger’s plans will sow the seeds of another mammoth recession. Both are wrong. No matter who wins the election tomorrow, the economy is on course to enjoy faster growth in the next four years as the headwinds that have held it back turn into tailwinds. Consumers are spending more and saving less after reducing household debt to the lowest since 2003. Home prices are rebounding after falling more than 30 percent from their 2006 highs. And banks are increasing lending after boosting equity capital by more than $300 billion since 2009. “The die is cast for a much stronger recovery,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist in West Chester, Pennsylvania, for Moody’s Analytics Inc. He sees growth this year and next at about 2 percent before doubling to around 4 percent in both 2014 and 2015 as consumption, construction and hiring all pick up. Chanos Unmoved by Chinese Banks’ Biggest Rally Since Jan. (Bloomberg) The biggest monthly surge in Chinese banks since January isn’t enough to stop Jim Chanos from shorting the financial shares as the portfolio manager wagers the country faces a credit crisis as bad loans increase. “You can’t look at a month and say that’s the trend, or something’s changed,” Chanos, who oversees $6 billion as the founder and president at Kynikos Associates Ltd., said in a Bloomberg television interview. Bad loans peaking at 3 percent, “seems awfully Pollyannic,” he said. Merkel: Euro Debt Crisis Will Last 5 Years Or More (Reuters) Merkel says the continent is on the right path to overcome the crisis but "whoever thinks this can be fixed in one or two years is wrong." Europe's Bank Reviews Collateral (WSJ) The issue involves about €80 billion in Spanish Treasury bills the ECB accepted as collateral for its loans. The ECB applies different discounts, or haircuts, to collateral based on the quality of the asset being posted. The Treasury bills under question were given the highest collateral rating, but Welt am Sonntag's research suggests many of the securities should have been given a lower rating, meaning more bills would have needed to be posted to obtain the same amount of ECB credit. If the ECB eventually were to downgrade the securities, banks would have to provide additional collateral to cover the nearly €17 billion in ECB loans they have received. The issue could prove to be embarrassing to the ECB if it is forced to admit it wasn't strict enough in enforcing its rules. Jeep Driven By Suspected Smugglers Gets Stuck Atop U.S.-Mexico Border Fence (TSG) A harebrained attempt by suspected smugglers to drive a Jeep Cherokee up and over a U.S.-Mexico border fence failed early Tuesday when the vehicle got stuck atop the 14-foot tall barrier. As seen above, the teetering SUV was spotted by U.S. Border Patrol agents after it had been driven up a makeshift ramp, but could not complete the trip’s final leg into Arizona. When agents approached the vehicle, two individuals on the fence's Mexican side fled. Investigators suspect that the Jeep likely contained narcotics, which were offloaded when the vehicle became stuck. Rochdale Says Bad Apple Trade Led to Rescue Bid (WSJ) "Rochdale had an unauthorized trade that left us with a negative capital position. We are in talks that would result in a healthy balance sheet, and we expect to be trading maybe as early as Monday," said Rochdale President Daniel Crowley. He said the unauthorized trading was in shares of Apple, and that, as of Saturday evening, the company was in talks with two firms for a possible injection of capital. He declined to offer more details on the unauthorized trading. S&P Found Liable by Australia Court for Misleading Rating (Bloomberg) Standard & Poor’s misled investors by giving its highest rating to securities whose value plunged during the global credit freeze, a judge ruled in an Australian case that may be cited in lawsuits around the world. S&P was “misleading and deceptive” in its rating of two structured debt issues in 2006, Federal Court Justice Jayne Jagot said in a summary of her ruling released today in Sydney. The Australian municipalities that brought the case are entitled to damages from the credit ratings company and two other defendants, ABN Amro Bank NV and Local Government Financial Services Pty., according to the ruling. Banks Going Low-Tech In Aftermath Of Sandy (WSJ) Sandy's devastating force has led many of the banks lying in its path to resort to old-fashioned, low-tech ways of serving their customers—including stocking up on cash and recording transactions by hand with ink and paper. Hulk Hogan: Bubba the Love Sponge and I 'are NOT friends and never will be friends' after sex tape leak (NYDN) They may have settled their sex tape brawl, but Hulk Hogan and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem aren’t rekindling their former friendship, the wrestling star claimed Friday. “Just for the record, Bubba and I are NOT friends and never will be friends, we are NOT friends,” Hulk Hogan said of the Florida shock jock in a Twitter message. Hogan sued Bubba Oct. 15 for invasion of privacy after grainy footage of the mustachioed muscleman having sex with Bubba’s wife surfaced on Gawker.com...Hogan, 59, maintained he was unaware of any camera and that the leak of the 6-year-old recording, made with Bubba’s consent while the wrestler’s ill-fated marriage to ex-wife Linda Hogan was on the rocks, was a devastating blow.

Opening Bell: 04.24.13

Credit Suisse Profit Rises (WSJ) Zurich-based Credit Suisse said its bottom line was flattered by a favorable comparison with last year's result, when an accounting charge weighed on performance. Revenue at the bank rose 19% following several quarters of reported declines. The report from Switzerland's second-largest bank comes amid a cost-cutting program started in 2011 that has it eliminating thousands of jobs. The program has resulted in 2.5 billion Swiss francs ($2.6 billion) in savings, and is on track to cut costs by 4.4 billion francs by the end of 2015, the bank said. Credit Suisse said its number of full-time employees fell to 46,900 in the first quarter, from 48,700 in the same period last year. Barclays Profit Buoyed By Investment Banking Unit (WSJ) Investment banking, headed by departing executive Rich Ricci, accounted for 74% of Barclays' pretax profit, or £1.32 billion of the £1.79 billion total. The high proportion of profits in part reflected weakness in other areas, such as retail banking in Europe and Africa, but was underpinned by a strong quarter for underwriting stock offerings and servicing hedge fund clients...The bank as a whole posted a £839 million net profit, compared with a £598 million net loss in the first quarter of 2012. Both figures are distorted by accounting charges that reflect the market cost of Barclays' own debt. The £1.79 billion pretax profit was down 25% from £2.4 billion in first-quarter 2012 and slightly lower than analysts had expected. Citigroup Says Debt Beats Peers in Advance of ‘Bail-In’ Rule (Bloomberg) Citigroup, the bank that took the most U.S. aid during the credit crisis, said it’s better- prepared than some rivals to withstand the impact of new anti- bailout rules that could force lenders to sell more debt. Citigroup’s so-called bail-in plan -- a rescue that makes debt investors and stockholders absorb losses instead of taxpayers -- shows the bank already has issued more long-term debt than some of its largest rivals, Treasurer Eric Aboaf said during an April 22 investor presentation. That leaves the New York-based bank in a better position as regulators decide how much more debt lenders should add to their buffers, Aboaf said. Wall Street Jobs Plunge As Profit Soars (Bloomberg) “The desire is to drive the cost of executing a trade to its lowest point -- this means automating the system and getting rid of the traders,” Richard Bove, a bank analyst with Rafferty Capital Markets LLC, said in a telephone interview. “All they do today is hit buttons on computer screens. Twenty-five years ago they would be calling their buddies at different firms. It was a highly labor intensive effort.” New York’s “inhospitable” climate for commercial banks, along with falling demand for financial services and increasing automation is driving the decline in jobs, Bove said. Woman could face death penalty for killing man by crushing testicles (NYDN) A 42-year-old woman is on trial for allegedly grabbing a man's genitals after he told her not to park her electric bike in front of his store. He later died from shock, according to reports. "I'll squeeze it to death, you'll never have children again," witnesses reported her as saying as she called on her brother and husband for back-up. The woman, who could face the death penalty if convicted, got into the row - in the Meilan District of Haikou City, Hainan - more than a year ago on April 19, 2012. IBTimes reports that her 41-year-old victim went into a state of shock and died before paramedics could treat him. The final outcome of the trial, it adds, depends largely on the interpretation of the woman's statement of "squeeze it to death." Dr Irwin Goldstein, urologist and director of San Diego Sexual Medicine, has previously told Gizmodo it is "quite plausible" the squeeze had killed the man. "Yes, the testicles are exquisitely sensitive to touch and there is a huge release of adrenalin when there is excessive force applied to these organs," he told the site. He added that it could have brought on a heart attack. Hazy Future for S.E.C.’s Blossoming Whistle-Blower Effort (NYT) Already, a whistle-blower program has bolstered an investigation into a trading blowup that nearly toppled Knight Capital, the largest stock trading firm on Wall Street, according to lawyers briefed on the case. With help from another whistle-blower, the lawyers said, the government discovered that Oppenheimer & Company had overstated the performance of a private equity fund. And after pursuing a Texas Ponzi scheme for more than a year, a cold trail heated up in 2010 when a tipster emerged. The breakthroughs—previously undisclosed—show the promise of the agency's 20-month-old whistle-blower program. Yet, the program faces challenges on many fronts. Some Wall Street firms are urging employees to report wrongdoing internally before running to the government, and one hedge fund, Paradigm Capital Management, was accused in a lawsuit of punishing an employee who had cooperated with the S.E.C., according to court and internal documents. Another financial firm, the documents show, pressured an employee to forfeit potential "bounties or awards"—a possible violation of S.E.C. rules. Apple’s $145 Billion in Cash Fails to Win AAA Debt Rating (Bloomberg) Apple, which has $145 billion of cash, said yesterday it plans to use debt to help finance a $100 billion capital reward for shareholders after a 42 percent stock plunge. Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s responded by ranking the company a level below their top grades, with Gerald Granovsky of Moody’s citing “shifting consumer preferences” in a statement as a risk to Cupertino, California-based Apple’s business. ECB Rate Cut Could Bring Big Disappointment (CNBC) Expectations are rising that the European Central Bank will announce a rate cut when it meets next week. But according to analysts the move is likely to have a limited impact and could in fact end up being a disappointment.

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: 06.13.12

Dimon To Fault Controls On Risk (WSJ) Mr. Dimon, scheduled to appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday morning, intends to apologize for the miscues—a stark departure from his normal shoot-from-the-hip demeanor. But Mr. Dimon will push back on any implication that the incident is lastingly detrimental to the largest U.S. bank by assets. In fact, the New York company expects its second quarter to be "solidly profitable" despite the losses, Mr. Dimon said in an early copy of his prepared remarks. "We will not make light of these losses, but they should be put into perspective," Mr. Dimon is expected to say. "We will lose some of our shareholders' money—and for that, we feel terrible—but no client, customer or taxpayer money was impacted by this incident." Jamie Dimon's Testimony (PDF) "All of these activities come with risk. And just as we have remained focused on serving our clients, we have also remained focused on managing the risks of our business, particularly given today’s considerable global economic and financial volatility. Last, I would like to say that in the face of these recent losses, we have come together as a Firm, acknowledged our mistakes, and committed ourselves to fixing them. We will learn from this incident and my conviction is that we will emerge from this moment a stronger, smarter, better company." Dimon: JPMorgan Traders Took Risks They Didn't Understand (Bloomberg) In testimony prepared for a hearing today, Dimon expressed regret over losses in the bank’s chief investment office, saying that its trading strategy was “poorly conceived and vetted” by senior managers who were “in transition” and not paying adequate attention. Greeks Withdraw $1 Billion A Day Ahead Of Vote (Reuters) Greeks pulled their cash out of the banks and stocked up with food ahead of a cliffhanger election on Sunday that many fear will result in the country being forced out of the euro. Bankers said up to 800 million euros ($1 billion) were leaving major banks daily and retailers said some of the money was being used to buy pasta and canned goods, as fears of returning to the drachma were fanned by rumors that a radical leftist leader may win the election. At Starbucks, Uncertainty Over Mayor's Drink Plan (NYT) As the Bloomberg administration moved ahead on Tuesday with its plan to restrict sales of big sugary drinks in New York, securing a preliminary nod from the city’s Board of Health, it said it is still trying to determine the impact on one popular beverage brand: Starbucks. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan, which would limit the size of sweet drinks sold at many establishments to 16 ounces or less, exempts any beverage that contains more than 50 percent milk by volume. Officials in City Hall and in Seattle said they were unsure how those rules might affect the Starbucks family of syrupy, milkshake-style coffee drinks, catnip to thousands of caffeine-addicted New Yorkers who frequent the company’s 190 outlets in Manhattan...The rules would ban large sodas sold at fast-food restaurants, movie theaters and street carts. But the Big Gulp, the supersized soda cup at 7-Eleven, would still be allowed under the proposal, because the proposal would exempt the sale of drinks in groceries or convenience stores. Full-Scale Bailouts for Italy, Spain in 6 Months: Egan-Jones (CNBC) Spain and Italy need a full-scale bailout from the European Union because of their high levels of government debt and the credit quality of their banks, and will likely seek help within the next 6 months, according to Sean Egan, Founding Partner and President of Egan-Jones, an independent ratings agency. Poor credit quality of banks usually goes hand-in-hand with poor government finances as the two institutions are “joined at the hip”, Egan told CNBC Asia’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday. That’s the case for most countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland and Ireland; Spain and Italy are no exceptions, he said. “It makes little sense to separate the banks’ credit quality from the governments’ credit quality because quite often, they support each other and that’s certainly the case in Italy and Spain,” he said. “We think that Spain will be back at the table, asking for more than the 100 billion euros ($125 billion) that they just asked for, and we think that Italy will also come to the table within the next 6 months.” Chinese Banks To See Squeeze On Profit (WSJ) In a bid to bring down lending rates and rev up economic growth, China's central bank said last week it would allow banks to double the maximum discount on loans and offer deposit rates that can reach 1.1 times the benchmark level. That could squeeze the minimum spread between loans and deposits from 2.4% to as little as 1.5%. "It's the biggest step towards a market-oriented interest-rate regime since 2004," said Yin Jianfeng, a researcher at government think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to a past easing of controls on lending rates. "Given the global financial tumult and domestic economic slowdown, I'd say it's a really bold move." ING Fined A Record Amount (WSJ) ING Bank has agreed to pay a record penalty of $619 million for illegally moving billions of dollars through the U.S. banking system on behalf of Cuban and Iranian clients and threatening to fire employees if they failed to conceal the origin of the money. The U.S. prohibits certain countries and entities from accessing the U.S. banking system through sanctions enforced by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. Banks in Manhattan, which process most of the world's U.S. dollar payments, use "filters" to prevent terrorists, money launderers and other criminals from gaining access. Let's Pizza vending machine ready for U.S. debut (PM) Let's Pizza, a vending machine that creates pizzas from scratch in 2.5 minutes, is about to plant a flag in U.S. soil. The machine was created by Italian Claudio Torghel and is distributed by A1 Concepts, based out of The Netherlands...The machine contains a specially developed bag of flour and a bag of mineral water. Every time you order a pizza, the machine will start making the dough, then shape it into a crust, and top it with organic tomato sauce. Next, one of the toppings is placed on top and the pizza is ready for the oven. Each machine offers four different kinds of pizzas.

Opening Bell: 11.13.12

Wall Street Damps Pay Expectations After 2011 Bonus Shock (Bloomberg) Almost 20 percent of employees won’t get year-end bonuses, according to Options Group, an executive-search company that advises banks on pay. Those collecting awards may see payouts unchanged from last year or boosted by as much as 10 percent, compensation consultant Johnson Associates Inc. estimates. Decisions are being made as banks cut costs and firms including UBS AG (UBSN) and Nomura Holdings Inc. (8604) fire investment-bank staff. Some employees were surprised as companies chopped average 2011 bonuses by as much as 30 percent and capped how much could be paid in cash. That experience, along with public statements from top executives, low trading volumes in the first half and a dearth of hiring has employees bracing for another lackluster year, consultants and recruiters said. “A lot of senior managers won’t have to pay up because they’re saying, ‘Where are these guys going to go?’” said Michael Karp, chief executive officer of New York-based Options Group. “We’re in an environment where a lot of people are just happy to have a job. Expectations have been managed so low that people will be happy with what they get.” Goldman Pares Back Partner Picks (WSJ) The New York company is expected to announce this week the promotion of about 70 employees to partner, said people familiar with the situation. The likely total is roughly one-third smaller than the 110 employees named partner by Goldman in 2010...As of Monday, the Goldman partnership committee hadn't finished the list of new partners, said people familiar with the matter. Greece Avoids Defaults (WSJ) Cash-strapped Greece on Tuesday raised the money it needs to avoid default when a Treasury bill matures later this week, but investor nerves are unlikely to be calmed as negotiations for the next slice of much-needed aid continue. The rift among Greece's official lenders over how to pare the country's growing debt pile spilled into the open late Monday, complicating efforts for an agreement that will free up a long-delayed aid payment to the country. The European Central Bank's reluctance to provide additional money to Greek banks poses a risk to the government, which in order to keep afloat has depended on support from local banks to sell its debt. Greece Needs Another 80 Billion Euros: Goldman Sachs (CNBC) The authors of the report, economists Themistoklis Fiotakis, Lasse Holboell Nielsen and Antoine Demongeot, note that the IMF’s target is “unlikely” without such a “drastic debt stock reduction.” “To increase the likelihood that the Greek debt-to-GDP ratio approaches its 120 percent by 2020 target under realistic assumptions, a much more drastic debt stock reduction (possibly north of 80 billion euros in total) will be required,” the report states. Japan Lawmakers Agree To Avert 'Fiscal Cliff' (Reuters) Japan's ruling and opposition parties agreed on Tuesday to quickly pass a deficit funding bill in parliament, in a move that will keep the country from falling off its version of a 'fiscal cliff' as the prime minister eyes elections as early as next month. The bill is needed to borrow some $480 billion and fund roughly 40 percent of this fiscal year's budget. Without it, the government could run out of money by the end of this month and would have to stop debt auctions next month, just as the economy teeters on the brink of a recession. Marc Faber: Prepare For A Massive Market Meltdown (CNBC) “I don’t think markets are going down because of Greece, I don’t think markets are going down because of the “fiscal cliff” – because there won’t be a “fiscal cliff,” Faber told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “The market is going down because corporate profits will begin to disappoint, the global economy will hardly grow next year or even contract, and that is the reason why stocks, from the highs of September of 1,470 on the S&P, will drop at least 20 percent, in my view.” FBI Agent in Petraeus Case Under Scrutiny (WSJ) A federal agent who launched the investigation that ultimately led to the resignation of Central Intelligence Agency chief David Petraeus was barred from taking part in the case over the summer due to superiors' concerns that he was personally involved in the case, according to officials familiar with the probe. After being blocked from the case, the agent continued to press the matter, relaying his concerns to a member of Congress, the officials said. New details about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation handled the case suggest that even as the bureau delved into Mr. Petraeus's personal life, the agency had to address conduct by its own agent—who allegedly sent shirtless photos of himself to a woman involved in the case prior to the investigation. Trial to Open in $68 Million Insider Trading Case (Dealbook) On Tuesday, Mr. Chiasson, 39, a co-founder of the now-defunct Level Global Investors, and Mr. Newman, 47, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback Capital Management, are set to stand trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan. Prosecutors say they were part of a conspiracy that made about $68 million illegally trading the computer company Dell and the chip maker Nvidia. MF Report Coming (Reuters) A US House of Representatives panel will release a long-awaited report that will dissect the collapse of failed commodities brokerage MF Global. The House Financial Services Committee said its Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will post the report online Thursday. A Dose of Realism for the Chief of J.C. Penney (NYT) Andrew Ross Sorkin: "You should know you have a problem when sales at your stores fall 26.1 percent in one quarter. That was the surprising decline J.C. Penney reported last week, when it disclosed that it had lost $123 million in the previous three months...Here's the good news: In the stores that have been transformed, J.C. Penney is making $269 in sales a square foot, versus $134 in sales a square foot in the older stores. So the model itself is working. And Mr. Johnson has the support of the company's largest shareholder, Pershing Square's Bill Ackman, who personally recruited Mr. Johnson. If Mr. Johnson were starting with a blank slate, it might be a great business." China Banker Sees Lower Bar for Yuan Globalization (WSJ) "Renminbi internationalization can be realized based on a partial opening of the capital-account and partial convertibility of the currency," said Mr. Li, a delegate to the 18th Communist Party Congress and longtime advocate of a greater global role for the yuan. The Eximbank is a major arm of the Chinese government for financing trade and investment overseas. Finally, a Place in Brazil Where Dogs Can Go for Discreet Sex (NYT) Heart-shaped ceiling mirror: check. Curtains drawn against the bright day: check. Red mattress: check. The establishment that opened here this year has features that demanding clients naturally expect from a love motel. Brazil, after all, is a world leader in these short-stay pleasure palaces, which beckon couples for trysts away from prying eyes with names like Swing, Absinthe and Alibi, and design motifs like medieval castles or of the American Wild West. But Belo Horizonte’s newest love motel stands apart from the crowd in one crucial aspect. It is for dogs. “I adore the romantic feel of this place,” said Andreia Kfoury, 43, a manager at a technology company who peeked inside the Motel Pet one recent morning while she and her husband were on a clothes-buying spree for their Yorkshire terrier, Harley. The couple, who are motorcycle enthusiasts, bought about $500 worth of imported Harley-Davidson brand items for their dog. “I’m definitely bringing Harley back here when it’s time for him to breed,” a smiling Ms. Kfoury said. “He is very macho, and would be a hit in this place.” Whether dogs like Harley actually need a romantic curtained-off suite to breed seems beside the point. Some dog owners simply like the concept of a love motel for their amorous pets and are willing to pay about $50 for each session, which Animalle will happily arrange.

Opening Bell: 03.05.12

Greek Bond Swap Deal Rests on Knife Edge (FT) People close to some bondholders warned other investors to take seriously threats by policymakers that if the deal fails Greece will default on its debt. “Some investors seem to think they will be rescued. That just isn’t the case,” one said. People involved in the deal denied that there was any nervousness about the outcome but nobody was willing to guess how high the participation rate would be. Slim Beats Gates in First Daily Billionaire Ranking (Bloomberg) If you like obsessively measuring your penis you'll love this: Carlos Slim, the telecommunications tycoon who controls Mexico’s America Movil SAB, is the richest person on Earth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 20 wealthiest individuals...The Bloomberg Billionaires Index takes measure of the world’s wealthiest people based on market and economic changes and Bloomberg News reporting. Each net worth figure is updated every business day at 5:30 p.m. in New York. The valuations are listed in U.S. dollars. Zuckerberg Doesn’t Rank on Billionaire Index (Bloomberg) Sad trombone: At the time of the offering, Zuckerberg is likely to sell about $1.75 billion of Facebook stock to pay off the tax obligation he will incur when he exercises options to buy 120 million shares. The combined transactions will dilute Zuckerberg’s stake from 28.4 percent to about 21 percent. If the company maintains its projected $100 billion valuation, that would make Zuckerberg worth about $21 billion, less than the $28.4 billion implied by his stated ownership. At that net worth, Zuckerberg isn’t rich enough to qualify for the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a new daily ranking of the world’s 20 richest people. The 20th spot is currently occupied by L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. AIG to Sell $6 Billion In Asian Insurer's Stock (WSJ) American International Group Inc. kicked off a $6 billion sale of shares in Asian life insurer AIA Group Ltd. on Monday morning in Hong Kong, moving forward with plans to repay another chunk of its 2008 U.S. bailout. AIG said the shares will be placed with institutional investors and expects them to be priced by Tuesday. The 1.7 billion shares up for sale represent around 14% of AIA, less than half the 32.9% stake AIG holds, according to a term sheet. Proceeds from this week's sale have been earmarked to repay the U.S. government, which rescued AIG from near collapse during the financial crisis with a record $182.3 billion bailout that has been partially repaid. The Treasury Department still has to recoup about $50 billion in taxpayer funds, and about $8.4 billion of that amount will be repaid when AIG sells the AIA shares and other assets, including its airplane-leasing subsidiary. The rest of the money—roughly $42 billion—is supposed to come from the government's sale of its 77% stake in AIG. Lenders Stress Over Test Results (WSJ) The 19 biggest U.S. banks in January submitted reams of data in response to regulators' questions, outlining how they would perform in a severe downturn. Now, citing competitive concerns, bankers are pressing the Fed to limit its release of information—expected as early as next week—to what was published after the first test of big banks in 2009. JFK Airport search of drug mule who said she was three months pregnant reveals she carried $20,000 worth of heroin (NYDN) Awoyemi, coming off an Air France flight from Paris to New York and wearing a “loose-fitting dress” was asked whether she was pregnant, and the woman replied that she was three months along, Homeland Security special agent John Moloney stated in a complaint filed in Brooklyn Federal Court. The customs inspector noted that Awoyemi appeared nervous, so she was selected for a pat-down search. After feeling a “bulge” in Awoyemi’s groin area, the situation escalated to a partial strip-search, according to the complaint. When she dropped her drawers, Awoyemi’s scheme fell apart. Pellets containing brown powder began dropping from her groin area — and the substance tested positive for heroin. Awoyemi was taken to a medical facility at the airport, where the federal cops administered a pregnancy test that came back negative. An X-ray showed more pellets in her intestinal tract, and by the end of the day she had passed about 25 pellets of heroin in a special commode that Customs officials have dubbed the “Drug Loo.” The high-tech toilet sanitizes the incriminating evidence. More On The Morgan Stanley Executive Charged in Cab Hate Crime Attack (Bloomberg) Jennings left a bank holiday party sometime before 11 p.m. and headed to the street, where he was supposed to be met by a car service, Jennings said. He hailed Ammar’s cab after the livery car didn’t appear, according to the report. Ammar said Jennings agreed on the fare and told him he would pay cash. Jennings fell asleep during the trip, the driver said. Once at the destination, though, Jennings said “he did not feel like paying” because he was already home, Ammar told police...When Ammar threatened to call the local police, Jennings said they wouldn’t do anything to help because he pays $10,000 in taxes, according to a report by the Darien police department...The Morgan Stanley executive told police he was afraid to come forward after the incident because the cab driver knew where he lived. He then went on vacation to Florida, police said. Jennings told officers he subsequently called his lawyer after a friend told him police were looking for a suspect in the stabbing incident, according to the report. JPMorgan Star To Launch Own Hedge Fund (FT) London-based Mike Stewart, JPMorgan’s global head of proprietary trading, and former head of emerging markets, is set to start his own new hedge fund, Whard Stewart, in the second quarter, people familiar with his plans said. Mr Stewart’s emerging markets trading team at the bank is expected to join him. The departures come despite word last week that US regulators will probably delay implementation of the so-called “Volcker rule” , under which banks are in effect banned from proprietary trading. Friends With Benefits (NYP) Unlike his fallen pal Raj Rajaratnam, former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta appears to have no shortage of character witnesses willing to testify at his upcoming insider trading trial. Indeed, dozens of well-heeled supporters are already putting their names on the line for the former consulting titan, including world-renowned speaker Deepak Chopra and Mukesh Ambani, the ninth-richest man in the world. “I have never seen him ask for anything for himself, always for the greater good,” Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, said recently on a little-noticed website called friendsofrajat.com. Cigarettes: The Most Stable International Currency (BusinessWeek) Cartons of Good Cat brand cigarettes are selling for as much as RMB5,600 (US$890) per carton in the city of Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province. The suspicion, according to reports this week, is that they are being used to bribe officials. Election Year Poses Challenge For Stocks (WSJ) The Dow is off to its best start to a year since 1998. But if history is a guide, this exuberance soon could give way to the first pangs of electoral anxiety. In a typical presidential-election year, stocks start well but slip into a funk by spring, according to Ned Davis Research, which has measured election-year trends back to 1900. At least in part, the slump reflects the electoral unknowns, Ned Davis has concluded. In a good year, investors deal with their jitters by late summer or early autumn and stocks recover. People get more comfortable with the November election outlook and put money back into stocks. This year, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 6.2% in just over two months, many investors and analysts expect a pullback soon. The looming election adds to ambient uncertainty about European debt and U.S. and Chinese growth prospects. Tony Welch, an analyst at Ned Davis Research, says the Dow could pull back 5% or 6% in the coming weeks. "We think the election-year trend could be strong this year," Mr. Welch says. "The market prefers certainty. It doesn't like unknowns." Ochocinco was urinated on by a lion and lived to tweet the tale (YS) The New England Patriots receiver was at a charity event in Miami on Saturday night when he ran into the caged animal. According to Ochocinco's Twitter account, the king of the jungle proceeded to become the urine sprayer at the party. Tweets included: "Swear to lil 10 pound bearded baby Jesus I just got peed on by a real "Lion" I'm not lying either. And y'all wonder why I don't go out!!!!!," "It's not funny i have on my good church clothes," and "I wasn't that close, he sprayed like a water gun."