How a $2.8 Billion Fine Added $40 Billion to Alibaba [WSJ]
Investors seem relieved that Beijing hasn’t done anything worse to China’s e-commerce champion after its dramatic fall from political favor…. While the fine—equivalent to 4% of Alibaba’s domestic annual sales—was higher than expected, investors are probably happy that the company’s fundamental business model remains intact. There are no forced divestitures or substantial changes to its corporate structure. The fact that Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms are popular among consumers probably counted in its favor with Beijing. Daniel Zhang, Alibaba’s chief executive, said Monday in a conference call that he didn’t expect a material impact on business operations.

For EV Startup Faraday Future, the Road Back From the Brink Runs Through a SPAC [WSJ]
Faraday Future has missed key product deadlines, amassed a pile of debt and lost top executives to a rival electric-vehicle startup. Its founder, who remains an executive, resigned as CEO amid his personal bankruptcy and was barred in China from running public companies.
Now under new leadership, seven-year-old Faraday & Future Inc. is poised to complete a public listing on a U.S. stock exchange within weeks that would value it at $3.4 billion….

HSBC and Huawei CFO reach agreement on document publication linked to extradition case [Reuters]
The legal dispute reached the Hong Kong court last month after a British judge in February blocked the release of internal HSBC documents relating to the fraud allegations against Meng.
Meng, who has been under house arrest in Canada since being detained at Vancouver airport in 2018, is facing charges of bank fraud in the United States for allegedly misleading HSBC about Huawei dealings in Iran, causing the bank to violate U.S. sanctions.

President’s Budget Request Includes Funds for Corporate Ownership Registry [WSJ]
The White House request, announced Friday, seeks to provide an additional $64 million to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, for the purpose of building the database, which is meant to help authorities combat anonymous shell companies and track the flow of illicit money.
The request would bring FinCEN’s budget to $191 million, an increase of about 50% from the unit’s enacted budget for the previous fiscal year…. The president also requested a larger budget for the Internal Revenue Service, including funds for increased oversight of high-income and corporate tax returns.

ETFs Could Rock the Bitcoin World [WSJ]
A lot of growth could come through ETFs, were they approved. In addition to opening the door to average investors, ETFs will also likely make it easier for more financial advisers to provide bitcoin allocations to clients, says Matt Hougan, chief investment officer of Bitwise Asset Management, which manages more than $1 billion in crypto funds and has also sought to launch an ETF.

NYC Co-Op Boards Would Have to Explain Why They Deny Buyers, Under New Bill [WSJ]
Over the years, rejected applicants have sued city co-op boards for illegal racial, religious and other forms of discrimination. A decade ago, Alphonse Fletcher Jr., a Black hedge-fund manager, accused the co-op board of the landmark Dakota building on Central Park West of racially discriminating against him and other prospective buyers, after the board rejected his application to buy an additional apartment in the building; the suit was later dismissed.
Some real-estate attorneys and brokers think the proposed bill could lead to more lawsuits against boards, if applicants don’t believe the official reason.

Related

Opening Bell: 03.04.13

Euro-Zone Deal Faces Hurdles (WSJ) Germany's reluctance to put its taxpayers' money at risk in other countries' banks is proving the biggest obstacle to letting the euro zone's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, invest directly in banks that need more capital. In Ireland, Spain, Greece and Cyprus, bailouts of struggling banks are placing heavy burdens on the state, adding to fast-rising national debts. Buffett Disappointed With Berkshire's 'Subpar' $24 Billion Gain (CNBC) Warren Buffett called 2012 "subpar" in his annual letter to shareholders as Berkshire Hathaway's per-share book value rose 14.4 percent, less than the S&P 500's 16-percent increase. It's the ninth time in 48 years this has happened. Buffett notes that the S&P has outpaced Berkshire over the past four years and if the market continues to gain this year the benchmark stock index could have its first five-year win ever. "When the partnership I ran took control of Berkshire in 1965, I could never have dreamed that a year in which we had a gain of $24.1 billion would be subpar ... But subpar it was." Buffett: Berkshire on hunt for more Heinz-like deals (Reuters) "If we get a chance to buy another Heinz, we will do that," Buffett said on CNBC. Berkshire likes the ketchup maker's business, the price of the $23 billion deal, and its partner in the transaction, private equity firm 3G Capital, Buffett said in an extended interview. HSBC Reports Declining Profit and Says Costs Are Increasing (Bloomberg) Pretax profit for 2012 dropped 5.6 percent to $20.65 billion, trailing the $23.49 billion estimate of 26 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Revenue fell 5.4 percent to $68.33 billion from $72.28 billion, HSBC said today in a statement. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver is being thwarted in his plan to reduce costs to 48 percent to 52 percent of revenue as the London-based lender set aside $1.9 billion to settle U.S. money-laundering probes and boosted spending on compliance by $500 million. Expenses as a proportion of revenue climbed to 62.8 percent from 57.5 percent, and wage inflation in markets such as Latin America is increasing, HSBC said today. Swiss Back Executive-Pay Controls (WSJ) The plan, dubbed the "rip off" initiative by the country's media, bans so-called golden-handshake and golden-parachute severance agreements. It also requires greater transparency on loans and retirement packages for senior executives and directors. Beauty queen took my heart, then she took me for $96,000 ride: hedge-funder's suit (NYP) Rishi Bajaj, 33, says he opened his heart, then his wallet, to Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2007 Liz Kranz after she told him she was considering selling her eggs to raise cash for a relative in rehab. The sob story got the beauty a $20,000 loan from Bajaj, he claims in a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit. Bajaj, who co-manages the $620 million hedge fund Altai Capital, then told Kranz, 24, to pick out a car for the couple to share — and was “surprised” when she selected a 2012 BMW that came with a $17,070 down payment. They met in July 2012 and dated for “several months,” even vacationing together in Italy, where, Bajaj said in court papers, he let Kranz use his American Express card. Kranz, of the Lower East Side, was also allowed to use Bajaj’s AmEx to buy a dress for a wedding they attended. Bajaj and Kranz, who lived briefly in LA, eventually broke up. There were “disagreements about their remaining obligations to each other,” Bajaj said in court papers. He claims the pageant queen kept her hands on his credit card and racked up tens of thousands in charges...In all, Bajaj claims Kranz spent $58,860 on his credit card over three months last year. In a November letter, his lawyer accused her of “theft, fraud and other egregious misconduct” and demanded she repay the full $58,860 in credit-card purchases. NYC to be hit hard by sequester: Merrill Lynch economist (NYP) Two months’ worth of job gains are about to vanish nationwide, warns a Merrill Lynch economist — and New York City, whose unemployment rate is already at an eye-popping 8.8 percent, will be hit exceptionally hard in this employment carnage as Washington begins to enact a series of controversial spending cuts known as the sequester. “It will set the economy back a few months in the job market,” Ethan Harris, co-head of global economics research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told The Post. “The national job market recovery has been modest, and it has been weaker locally in New York.” Nationally, Harris calculated a loss of about 300,000 jobs, roughly two months of average job gains, if the sequester is enacted untouched. Job-Hunt Time Shrinks in U.S. From Record High (Bloomberg) For 13 million out-of-work Americans, record spells of joblessness are abating. The median duration fell to 16 weeks in January from 25 weeks in June 2010, Labor Department data show. Fewer people compete for each opening as hiring expands, and persistent long-term unemployment is starting to mend. The progress supports Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s view that America’s labor market remains flexible and isn’t succumbing to hysteresis, or permanently higher joblessness, similar to Europe in the 1980s, said Dale Mortensen, a professor of economics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and 2010 Nobel laureate. That suggests continued monetary stimulus can bring about a faster healing. Slim Risks Losing World’s Richest Person Title as Troubles Mount (Bloomberg) Slim’s lead over the next-wealthiest man, Bill Gates, narrowed last week to about $4.8 billion -- the closest spread in almost a year. The Lebanese immigrant’s son, who acquired Mexico’s phone monopoly and turned it into a pan-Latin American powerhouse, lost almost a 10th of his net worth last month, winnowing his fortune to $71 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Dennis Rodman: Kim Jong Un Wants President Obama to ‘Call Him’ (ABC) In his first interview since returning to the U.S. from an unprecedented visit to North Korea last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he bears a message for President Obama from the country’s oppressive leader, Kim Jong Un. “He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him,” Rodman told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” “He said, ‘If you can, Dennis – I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.” The athlete also offered Kim some diplomatic advice for potential future talks with President Obama. “[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball.’ Let’s start there,” Rodman said.

Opening Bell: 06.12.13

Pimco Sees 60% Chance of Global Recession in Five Years (Bloomberg) Pacific Investment Management Co., the world’s largest active bond manager, said investors should cut risk amid a more than 60 percent chance of a global recession in the next three to five years. Global growth will slow, keeping inflation in check, and “economic volatility” will increase, Saumil Parikh, a portfolio manager at Newport Beach, California-based Pimco, said in a report being posted on the firm’s website today. Investors shouldn’t add risk in the search for yield, he said. “The global economy experiences a recession every six years or so, and the frequency of global recessions tends to increase when global indebtedness is high and falling as opposed to when indebtedness is low and rising,” Parikh, who focuses on asset allocation, multisector fixed income and absolute-return portfolios, said in the report. The last global recession was four years ago, he said. Banks Get Reprieve on New Swaps Rule (WSJ) Some of biggest banks on Wall Street will get an additional two years to comply with a post-financial crisis rule requiring they move risky swap activities into separate affiliates. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said it granted extensions to seven banks, giving them until July 2015 to comply with so-called "swaps push-out" rules required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law. ... The OCC notified Bank of America Corp., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., HSBC Holdings PLC, Morgan Stanley and U.S. Bancorp that they were granted a 24-month extension in response to their requests for a longer transition period. The move comes less than a week after the Federal Reserve said foreign banks also will be eligible for the two-year delay in complying with the rule, which is slated to take effect July 16. Emerging market assets suffer in fierce sell-off (FT) Emerging economies have been among the prime beneficiaries of ultra-loose global monetary policy as central banks led by the Fed have flooded financial markets with more than $12tn of extra liquidity since the financial crisis. But signs of an economic slowdown spreading from China and indications that the Fed could reduce the pace of its $85bn-a-month bond purchases have triggered a sharp correction in emerging markets. The South African rand and the Brazilian real touched four-year lows against the US dollar on Tuesday, and the Indian rupee fell to a record low. Even relatively robust countries like the Philippines and Mexico – long favourites of investors – have been hit by a spate of selling. Some central banks have begun to intervene to stem the currency slides. Is U.S. stock trading safer? Fewer erroneous trades seen (Reuters) More than three years after the "flash crash" terrified many by temporarily wiping out almost $1 trillion of U.S. stock market value in a few minutes, there are signs that the number of erroneous and aberrant trades is dropping. The use of circuit breakers for individual securities in the wake of the May 6, 2010 plunge, and the introduction of tougher risk-management controls for broker-dealers in November 2010 appear to have helped stabilize trading, market experts and regulators said. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the security industry's watchdog, said the number of reports of "clearly erroneous" trades it received was down 84 percent in the last six months of 2012 compared with the first six months of 2009. Facebook Investors Press Zuckerberg on Stock Price at Annual Meeting (CNBC) Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tried to tackle concerns about its stock head-on at the first annual shareholder meeting Tuesday, but investors pressed for answers about why the price is still down a year after the company went public. "The answer is we understand that a lot of people are disappointed with the performance of the stock, and we really are, too," Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks before taking questions. ... The stock, priced at $38 when the company went public in May 2012, hit $17 a few months ago and was trading at about $24 in afternoon trading Friday. Facebook can't control the stock price but is focused on developing the best products to create more shareholder value, Zuckerberg said. NJ Mayor Apologizes for Calling Residents "Annoying" (NBC) The mayor of Toms River apologized Tuesday night for comments he made about an area battered by Sandy, but not all residents were satisfied. Last week, Mayor Thomas Kelaher told Bloomberg News that he thought residents of Ortley Beach, where many are still without homes, were "annoying." "I certainly never intended to be disrespectful to the people who live in Ortley beach," Kelaher said at a meeting Tuesday. Marketfield Poet-Philosopher Pair Bet Europe for Top Fund (Bloomberg) Michael Aronstein, a poet, and Michael Shaoul, a doctor of philosophy, have made their MainStay Marketfield Fund the world’s fastest-growing by anticipating recoveries in the most-hated assets. Marketfield grew more than five-fold to $9.5 billion in the past year, the biggest increase of a fund with more than $5 billion in assets, after betting on a rebound in U.S. housing stocks and European shares. Now, their success relies on Irish and Italian stocks rallying and equities in China , Brazil and India tumbling. The New York-based fund has advanced 70 percent since July 2007, more than triple the return of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “I don’t know where the level is,” Aronstein, a former Merrill Lynch strategist who writes poetry in his spare time, said of the potential for further declines in developing nations’ stocks in an interview April 4. “But if we are right, it’s going to get to the point where people cannot stand it anymore.” Metacapital in Worst Slide as Bloodbath Roils Funds (Bloomberg) Deepak Narula rose to fame as manager of the best-performing hedge fund last year by navigating the government’s stimulus efforts. He’s having a far harder time as the Federal Reserve moves closer to an exit. Metacapital Management LP’s flagship $1.5 billion fund lost an estimated 6.4 percent last month, the worst decline since it started in 2008, according to a letter to investors obtained by Bloomberg News. That followed drops of 0.5 percent in April and 0.1 percent in March, after 17 months of consecutive gains including a 41 percent return last year. ... “It’s been a bloodbath the last four to six weeks,” said Troy Gayeski, a senior portfolio manager who helps invest client money in hedge funds at SkyBridge Capital, which manages about $7.7 billion. “It was a confluence of just about everything” from investors’ concerns that refinancing would pick up among some borrowers who’ve had trouble qualifying to the slump in the mortgage debt that the Fed is buying, he said. SoftBank's Son Felt Time Pressure to Push Sprint Deal Forward (WSJ) In the end, SoftBank Corp. Chief Executive Masayoshi Son concluded that time was money. After a weekend of wheeling and dealing, he was willing to sweeten the Japanese company's bid for Sprint Nextel Corp. that Mr. Son for weeks had been saying already was high enough. His hope with the new bid is to keep the acquisition on track for midsummer completion and resolve complications raised by a rival offer. Mr. Son agreed for SoftBank to throw another $1.5 billion on top of the $20.1 billion already offered to achieve the "certainty of timing" for closing the deal in early July, a person familiar with the new proposal said. Pattern of negative correlation between HY bonds and treasuries has been broken (Sober Look) Since the financial crisis, the correlation between treasuries and many credit assets such as high yield bonds (HY) has been strongly negative. ... Recent events however broke that pattern. We've had a number of days with both the longer dated treasuries and HY selling off. That means the HY asset class is now responding to rate moves (not just spread). The 3-month correlation between prices of longer dated treasuries and HY bonds is nearing zero. This move toward a "less negative" correlation with treasuries is also visible in other credit assets as well. Sub-investment-grade credit investors are all of a sudden paying much closer attention to rates. US warns EU against exempting film industry from trade talks (FT) The US government has warned Brussels that EU efforts to placate French demands to exempt its film industry from high-profile transatlantic trade talks could unleash a torrent of demands in Washington for similar reciprocal carve-outs that would imperil a comprehensive deal. ... José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, met European filmmakers on Tuesday, including “The Artist” star Bérénice Bejo, to reassure them the trade deal will not jeopardise their protections. “Let me state loud and clear: the cultural exception is not negotiable,” Mr Barroso said after the meeting. Most Americans Aren’t Excited About Their Jobs (WSJ) FYI. State Dept. officials deny prostitution cover-up allegations (CBS) The allegations were first brought to light by CBS News' John Miller, who reported that according to an internal State Department Inspector General's memo, several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off. One specific example mentioned in the memo refers to the 2011 investigation into an ambassador who "routinely ditched ... his protective security detail," and inspectors suspect this was in order to "solicit sexual favors from prostitutes." ... In response to the allegation, Gutman said on Tuesday: "I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating. I live on a beautiful park in Brussels that you walk through to get to many locations and at no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity."

Opening Bell: 12.20.12

Report Says Libor-Tied Losses at Fannie, Freddie May Top $3 Billion (WSJ) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may have lost more than $3 billion as a result of banks' alleged manipulation of a key interest rate, according to an internal report by a federal watchdog sent to the mortgage companies' regulator and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The unpublished report urges Fannie and Freddie to consider suing the banks involved in setting the London interbank offered rate, which would add to the mounting legal headaches financial firms such as UBS AG and Barclays face from cities, insurers, investors and lenders over claims tied to the benchmark rate. Libor Documents May Boost Civil Suits (WSJ) Analysts have published a range of estimates of the potential impact to the industry of lawsuits stemming from the manipulation—in some cases they reach into the tens of billions of dollars or more. It likely will be years before the extent of any liabilities becomes clear. For the lawsuits to succeed, plaintiffs must prove that banks successfully altered the interest-rate benchmarks and caused the plaintiffs to suffer a loss. Michael Hausfeld, chairman of Hausfeld LLP, a co-lead counsel on one of the lawsuits, said the UBS settlement was "extremely useful" for the litigation. The "extraordinary emails" published by the regulators exposed the "pervasiveness of the culture and the activity." UBS Trader Hayes Exposed at Core of Libor Investigation (Bloomberg) Tom Hayes, one of two former UBS AG traders charged by U.S. prosecutors, is portrayed by American regulators as the kingpin of a three-year campaign that succeeded in manipulating global interest rates. Hayes, 33, was charged with wire fraud and price-fixing, the Department of Justice said in a criminal complaint unsealed yesterday. The trader and Roger Darin, a former short-term interest-rates trader at UBS whose responsibilities included the firm’s yen Libor quotes, were also charged with conspiracy...Hayes colluded with brokers, counterparts at other firms and his colleagues to manipulate the rate, the Justice Department said. Between 2006 and 2009, a UBS trader made at least 800 requests to the firm’s yen Libor rate-setters, about 100 to traders at other banks, and 1,200 to interdealer brokers, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which didn’t identify Hayes by name. “Many UBS yen derivatives traders and managers were involved in the manipulative conduct and made requests to serve their own trading positions’ interests,” the CFTC said. “But the volume of unlawful requests submitted by one particular senior yen derivatives trader in Tokyo dwarfed them all.” IntercontinentalExchange Agrees to Acquire NYSE Euronext (Bloomberg) IntercontinentalExchange Inc., the 12-year-old energy and commodity futures bourse, agreed to acquire NYSE Euronext for cash and stock worth $8.2 billion, moving to take control of the world’s biggest equities market. ICE, based in Atlanta, will pay $33.12 a share for the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, 38 percent above yesterday’s closing price, according to a statement today. Both boards approved the proposal and the companies expect to complete the transaction in the second half of 2013. Last year, the U.S. Justice Department blocked a joint hostile bid by ICE and Nasdaq OMX Group for the New York-based company on concern the combination would dominate U.S. stock listings. Greece Faces 'Make or Break' Year (FT) We can make it next year if we can stick to the program agreed with the EU and IMF," finance minister Yannis Stournaras said in an interview with the Financial Times. However, "the break would be if the political system finds the situation too difficult to handle", he added, referring to the danger of social unrest about austerity that could force the two left-of-center parties to bring down the governing coalition. "What we have done so far is necessary but not sufficient to achieve a permanent solution for Greece," Mr Stournaras said. "The issue now is implementation." Boehner's 'Plan B' Gets Pushback (WSJ) The mood at the White House was gloomy, while on Capitol Hill it fluctuated. Few seemed confident the nation would avoid the tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, but others noted major Washington deals are usually reached only after several near-death experiences. Preparing for the World's End, Just in Case (WSJ) Tony Brown, a private investigator in Southern California, says he has spent nearly $60,000 preparing for Teotwawki — an acronym for "the end of the world as we know it"—or SHTF—when the "s--- hits the fan." Mr. Brown has purchased an ultralight plane and amassed three tons of food in his kitchen, about a third in freeze-dried meals. About a year ago, Mr. Brown started a website to recruit a community of preppers to plan for a cataclysm. In the first several months, he said he received few inquiries. But by the summer, traffic to the site soared and applications have come rolling in since. He recently capped the group at 175 members—all are responsible for their own one-year supply of food—though he is still seeking a doctor, meteorologist and ham-radio operator. Mr. Brown has contingency plans for four doomsday scenarios he deems most likely—a supervolcano, solar flare, major earthquake or hyper inflation—and a large underground bunker in case of a nuclear attack. He doesn't believe the world will end on Dec. 21, "but, just in case, I want to have everything ready by then," he said. US Economy Grew 3.1%; Jobless Claims Rise (Reuters) Weekly jobless claims rose to 361,000 in the latest week. Claims has been expected to rise to 357,000, from 343,000 the prior week. BofA’s Moynihan Said to Kill Proposal to Cut Pay for Brokers (Bloomberg) Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan blocked a proposal to cut the main component of most brokers’ pay for 2013, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The plan would have reduced the so-called grid payout for Merrill Lynch financial advisers by two percentage points, the person said, requesting anonymity because it wasn’t made public. The changes, which would have affected advisers generating less than $1 million in commissions, were seen as a way to cushion the costs of new bonuses, the person said. In $18 Million Theft, Victim Was a Canadian Maple Syrup Cartel (NYT) It was an inside job of sorts. Thieves with access to a warehouse and a careful plan loaded up trucks and, over time, made off with $18 million of a valuable commodity. The question is what was more unusual: that the commodity in question was maple syrup, or that it came from something called the global strategic maple syrup reserve, run by what amounts to a Canadian cartel. On Tuesday, the police in Quebec arrested three men in connection with the theft from the warehouse, which is southwest of Quebec City. The authorities are searching for five others suspected of being involved, and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Canada and the United States are trying to recover some of the stolen syrup. Both the size and the international scope of the theft underscore Quebec’s outsize position in the maple syrup industry. Depending on the year, the province can produce more than three-quarters of the world’s supply. And its marketing organization appears to have taken some tips from the producers of another valuable liquid commodity when it comes to exploiting market dominance. “It’s like OPEC,” said Simon Trépanier, acting general manager of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. “We’re not producing all the maple syrup in the world. But by producing 70 to 78 percent, we have the ability to adjust the quantity that is in the marketplace.” NYers who believe in Mayan apocalypse search for sex before the world ends (NYP) While some people around the world are arming themselves and digging into bunkers, many New Yorkers are simply hoping for a hot time. “I will be looking for an end-of-the-world hook-up,” Dennis Cintron, 29, a Lower East Side bartender, told The Post. “If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang.” Cintron said he’ll buy new clothes and get a haircut for the big day because he wants some “companionship” to ring in the rapture. Sara Saperstein, 26, of Bushwick is also hoping for one last romp. “It’s like New Year’s. I want to go out on a wild note!” Saperstein said. She won’t have trouble finding a spot for that. More than a dozen bars and clubs in New York City are throwing end-of-days bashes, including a comedy show at the Bell House in Gowanus and an “End of the Funking World Party” at B.B. King Blues Club in Midtown. Other singles posted ads on Craigslist.org and OKCupid.com, seeking apocalypse-themed dates, “casual encounters” and even “end of the world sex.” “If you’ve got no plans for the apocalypse, let’s get together,” wrote a 30-year-old single guy from Midtown. He added, “Send me how you’d like to spend your last hours on earth — and a photo.”

Opening Bell: 02.25.13

Current Employees Star In S&P Suit (WSJ) As ammunition against Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, the Justice Department packed its fraud lawsuit with vivid details about more than 25 employees who allegedly put triple-A ratings on shaky bundles of subprime mortgages—or dithered on downgrading the securities as the housing market was collapsing. David Tesher, an S&P managing director in charge of one of the firm's two collateralized-debt-obligation groups, let analysts who reported to him put the highest possible ratings on deals S&P "knew did not accurately reflect the true credit risks," the U.S. government alleged in the suit filed Feb. 4. When a different group of analysts warned that more and more borrowers were falling behind on their payments, Mr. Tesher didn't tell his analysts, federal prosecutors claim. They put his name in the 128-page lawsuit a total of 59 times. Fresh Front In Budget Battle (WSJ) A White House official said the administration wouldn't go along with such a plan to extend the lower spending levels. And Democrats are insisting that the House GOP bill also give new latitude to domestic agencies as well as the Pentagon. But an aide to Senate Democratic leaders said such a measure might be politically difficult for the lawmakers to oppose, lest they bear the blame for shutting down the government. "There's an emerging consensus that it would be a difficult battle to have," said the Senate leadership aide. "I don't think we could force a shutdown." Dimon: Let’s put ‘London Whale’ on ice (NYP) That’s the message Jamie Dimon hopes to deliver at JPMorgan Chase’s annual investor day in New York tomorrow, some nine months after the infamous “London Whale” blew a $6 billion hole in the bank’s balance sheet. Dimon will stress that the nation’s biggest bank has been growing its business and taking market share in a bid to convince investors and analysts that there will be no further whale sightings. JPMorgan, for instance, has boosted its private banker ranks to better cater to wealthy investors, adding some 650 bankers since 2008, according to people familiar with the matter. Dimon is also expected to tout the bank’s ability to ring up record profits in good times and bad. JPMorgan reaped $21.3 billion in profits in 2012, a record year despite rocky markets that shook rivals here and abroad. Knight Capital to Sell Credit Brokerage Unit to Stifel: Report (Reuters) Knight Capital Group, which recently agreed to be bought for $1.4 billion by Getco Holding, has struck a deal to sell its credit-brokerage unit to Stifel Financial, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. The terms of the deal were not known. But Stifel will be picking up investment-grade, high-yield, asset-backed and mortgage-backed debt brokers in the U.S. and Europe through the deal the source said. Foreign Money Is Revisiting Greece (WSJ) A steady trickle of foreign money pumped €109 million ($143.8 million) into Greek stocks in the last six months of 2012, followed by an additional €27.6 million in January, according to the Athens Stock Exchange. That money helped lift Greece's major stock index 33.4% last year, making it—bizarrely—the best-performing stock market in the European Union. It is up an additional 10.51% this year, to 1003.32, although it remains well off its high of 6355 reached more than 12 years ago. IKEA Meatballs Pulled After Horse-Meat Traces Found (WSJ) IKEA on Monday became the latest company to be drawn into Europe's snowballing horse-meat scandal, as the Swedish furniture giant said it has recalled a batch of meatballs that had been distributed to 13 European countries. The move comes after Czech food inspectors found traces of horse meat in IKEA's meatballs. The company also said it is withdrawing meatball products from sale in Sweden. Japan Picks BOJ Critic to Be Its Next Chief (WSJ) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to nominate former finance-ministry official Haruhiko Kuroda, 68 years old, as the next Bank of Japan governor, according to government officials. Mr. Kuroda, currently chief of the Asian Development Bank, ran the Japanese finance ministry's currency policy for four years in the early 2000s. There, among other things, he oversaw an extended effort to drive down the yen's value in order to make Japanese exports more affordable on the world market. Barnes & Noble Chairman to Bid for Company's Retail Assets (Reuters) Barnes & Noble Chairman Leonard Riggio has told the board he plans to buy all the retail assets of the company. The retail business includes, among other things, Barnes & Noble Booksellers and barnesandnoble.com but excludes Nook Media, Riggio said in a regulatory filing on Monday. Mets Expect To Lose Money And Fans This Year (NYP) The team is expecting to lose more than $10 million this year, after bleeding red the past two seasons, while attendance is projected to fall for a fifth straight year. Monti Gets Investors’ Approval as Bonds Cast Doubt on Berlusconi (Bloomberg) Monti “is the first leader to make it clear you have to look out for future generations and not just tomorrow’s vote,” said Fabrizio Fiorini, chief investment officer at Aletti Gestielle SGR SpA. “This concept of looking out for future generations is absolutely new for Italy.” Angry moms condemn Geico’s cellphone app commercial they claim promotes bestiality (NYDN) One Million Moms wants auto insurance firm Geico to pull its latest TV campaign in which a woman appears to be flirting with a pig. The conservative Christian group that monitors children’s programming issued a statement to condemn the clip. “The Geico marketing team may have thought this would be humorous, but it is disgusting to see how the company takes lightly the act of bestiality,” One Million Moms said in a statement. The press release, which urges members to email their disgust to the firm, added that the advert was “repulsive” and “unnecessary.” It was also a “horrible commercial for families to see,” the group said. The commercial starts with Maxwell the Geico pig and the woman in a parked car on what appears to be a lover’s lane. Not knowing the car has broken down, the woman seems keen to make out with the pig. But he is uninterested and instead shows her the Geico app and the game Fruit Ninjas on his cellphone. Geico has not commented on the complaint.

Opening Bell: 11.12.12

Leucadia Agrees to Buy Jefferies for About $2.76 Billion (Bloomberg) Leucadia National Corp agreed to buy the the portion of Jefferies Group it doesn’t already own for about $2.76 billion. Investors will receive 0.81 Leucadia share for each Jefferies share they own, the companies said today in a statement. The deal values the entire company at about $3.59 billion, based on data from the company’s most recent 10-Q regulatory filing. Jefferies management will run the firm, according to the report. Leucadia already holds about 28.6 percent of New York-based Jefferies. Jefferies Chief Executive Officer Richard Handler will become CEO of New York-based Leucadia after the transaction is completed, which the companies said they expected in the first quarter. Handler will remain CEO of Jefferies as well. “This transaction represents the realization of a personal dream for me,” Handler, 51, said in the statement. Greece Passes 2013 Austerity Budget (WSJ) Greece passed on Monday a 2013 austerity budget needed to unlock further funding for the cash-strapped country, although international creditors have indicated the disbursement may be weeks away as they squabble over how to resolve the nation's debt problems. Euro-zone finance ministers will meet Monday in Brussels, where they had been expected to approve Greece's next aid payment of €31.5 billion ($40 billion), but no decision is now expected until they are assured the country's overhauls are on track. The budget, approved by a 167-128 vote, foresees Greece taking €9.4 billion of budget cuts next year, dealing a fresh blow to an economy seen contracting 4.5% next year, its sixth year of recession. Spain Needs A Bailout Urgently: Former ECB Member (CNBC) Bini Smaghi told CNBC that Spain must not waste any more time and that it needed to apply for help from Europe's bailout fund. "They need to revitalize the economy and they need lower interest rates [and] the only way to do that [is] to request a program," he said, adding that Spain should have done so "yesterday." White House Plans Public Appeal On Deficit (WSJ) Mr. Obama has planned the meetings as policy makers start work to craft a package of deficit-reduction measures that could come in place of the so-called fiscal cliff, the mandatory spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to begin in January. His meetings with labor and business leaders come before he meets with congressional leaders Friday, evidence the White House believes Mr. Obama can use momentum from his re-election to marshal outside support and heighten pressure on Republicans to agree to tax increases on upper-income earners. The strategy comes as many Republicans appear to have softened their antitax rhetoric in the wake of the election, with many openly acknowledging that higher taxes will likely be part of any plan to reduce the deficit. Boehner Tells House GOP to Fall in Line (NYT) On a conference call with House Republicans a day after the party’s electoral battering last week, Speaker John A. Boehner dished out some bitter medicine, and for the first time in the 112th Congress, most members took their dose. Their party lost, badly, Mr. Boehner said, and while Republicans would still control the House and would continue to staunchly oppose tax rate increases as Congress grapples with the impending fiscal battle, they had to avoid the nasty showdowns that marked so much of the last two years. Members on the call, subdued and dark, murmured words of support — even a few who had been a thorn in the speaker’s side for much of this Congress. It was a striking contrast to a similar call last year, when Mr. Boehner tried to persuade members to compromise with Democrats on a deal to extend a temporary cut in payroll taxes, only to have them loudly revolt. No Increase Of Banker Bonuses This Year (NYP) That’s the dour view of executive-compensation firm Johnson Associates, which says investment-banking business is so slow that after the sector’s workers bore the brunt of most of the 7,000 job losses on the Street this year, they will find the bonus pie smaller as well. “It’s a tremendous drop from five years ago. If you were getting an average bonus of $400,000 back in 2007, then this year it will probably be around $200,000 or $250,000,” says Alan Johnson, managing director of Johnson Associates...However, fixed-income executives, who sell bonds, should see bonuses rise this year by something between 10 percent and 20 percent. Deputies: Man impersonated federal officer to get into Epcot for free (Orlando Sentinel) A 74-year-old Miami man who was trying to avoid paying nearly $100 to get into Epcot, was arrested after he impersonated a Federal officer. Emerito Pujol flashed a fake badge at an Epcot employee as he passed through the turnstiles at the park around noon on Saturday. The employee challenged him and asked to see the badge again. He claimed he was an undercover officer who was looking for someone, according to an arrest report. When a security guard approached him, Pujol again claimed he was "in service" and was "guarding someone important," the report states...Pujol was arrested and charged with unlawful use of a police badge, falsely impersonating an officer and petty theft. No Individual Charges In Probe Of JPMorgan (WSJ) The top U.S. securities regulator doesn't intend to charge any individuals in its planned enforcement action against J.P. Morgan for the allegedly fraudulent sale of mortgage bonds, according to people close to the investigation. The largest U.S. bank by assets will pay a significant financial penalty under the proposed deal, which has been approved by Securities and Exchange Commission staff but not by the agency's five commissioners, said the people close to the probe. Nomura Launches Private Equity Index (FT) The Japanese bank will look to match the returns of private equity funds – which take over companies, restructure them, and then seek to sell them at a profit – by investing in publicly traded companies in sectors that are attracting attention from buy-out groups. Morgan Stanley Sues Ex-FrontPoint Manager Over Insider Trading (Reuters) In a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court on October 31, Morgan Stanley sued ex-FrontPoint Partners hedge fund manager Joseph "Chip" Skowron over the funds the bank paid to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The lawsuit also called for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Doctor-turned-stock picker Skowron pleaded guilty in August to trading stock of Human Genome Sciences Inc in 2008 based on non-public information he admitted to having received from a consultant for the biotech company, who also pleaded guilty to insider trading charges. Skowron was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to forfeit $5 million. "Beyond the harm attendant to having one of its managing directors plead guilty to serious criminal conduct, the firm expended its own reputational capital by defending Skowron during the years it believed, based entirely on his misrepresentation, that he had not violated the law," the complaint said. So, maybe that Romney face tattoo wasn’t such a good idea... (Politico) With the election over, supporters of Mitt Romney have to pack up their campaign signs and paraphernalia and get on with their lives. But what if you can’t get rid of that stuff? Literally. Eric Hartsburg caught some attention in the weeks leading up to the election for having the Romney campaign’s logo tattooed on his face. Suffice to say, he’s not happy with Tuesday’s results. “Totally disappointed, man,” Hartsburg told POLITICO. “I’m the guy who has egg all over his face, but instead of egg, it’s a big Romney/Ryan tattoo. It’s there for life.” Hartsburg’s tattoo covers a 5-by-2 inch space on the side of his face, and he did it after raising $5,000 on eBay for the effort. He didn’t even tell his wife he planned to get the tattoo until about an hour before. “Right away, she was taken aback,” Hartsburg said, adding that his wife is also a Romney/Ryan supporter. “My 15-year-old son, however, he was all about it.”

Opening Bell: 06.05.12

Germany Pushes EU Bank Oversight (WSJ) Though Berlin has resisted a banking union, Ms. Merkel's initiative shows Germany is willing to talk about an overhaul and is trying to focus the debate on Europe's biggest banks. "We will discuss to what extent we need to put systemically relevant banks under a specific European supervisory authority so that national interests do not play such a large role," Ms. Merkel told reporters ahead of a meeting in Berlin with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, referring to the June 28-29 summit. Citi Bets That Proof Leads To Profits (WSJ) Seeking a shot in the arm for the ailing banking business, Citigroup Inc. C -2.30% is expanding into a little-known but fast-growing field known as identity proofing—the tedious and time-consuming task of proving people are who they say they are. The third-biggest U.S. bank by assets later this month will begin issuing digital-identity badges to the employees of Defense Department contractors, ranging from makers of high-tech engineering parts to the janitors who clean the bathrooms. Citigroup is the only financial institution that has clearance to sell the identity cards and grab a piece of a market whose annual sales could reach into the billions of dollars. But the badge business is just the beginning. Citigroup's hope is that the contractors will eventually use the plastic on which the badges are issued for more than just identity verification. If companies adopt the technology, their employees will be able to collect paychecks and pay business expenses using the cards—enabling Citigroup to collect fees on all of those transactions. John Paulson Buys Saudi Prince’s $49 Million Aspen Palace (CNBC) The lavish ranch, sold by Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was once the most expensive estate ever listed in the U.S., with a price tag in 2006 of $135 million. The property includes a main house with 15-bedrooms, 16-baths, and 56,000-square-feet. It also includes several side buildings, as well as a water treatment plant, gas pumps and other high-tech features. Mr. Paulson’s $49 million purchase included two properties — the 90-acre main property as well as a 38-acre property nearby called Bear Ranch. Bear Ranch and Hala Ranch together might have once fetched more than $150 million in 2006 or 2007, according to Aspen real-estate experts. Blankfein: Nyet to Petersburg leaks (NYP) Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein yesterday squarely disputed his former director Rajat Gupta’s claim that Gupta was permitted to speak about details of a 2008 board meeting with his alleged co-conspirator, hedge-fund titan Raj Rajaratnam. “Did you authorize Mr. Gupta to reveal any of the confidential information discussed at the board meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia?” prosecutor Reed Brodsky asked the CEO. “No,” Blankfein said. The details included directors discussing the possibility of Goldman buying a commercial bank or insurance company, including AIG, in the early days of the mortgage crisis. MF Global Trustee Sees $3 Billion in Potential Claims (Reuters) MF Global Holdings could have more than $3 billion in claims against its former affiliates, Louis Freeh, the trustee overseeing the wind-down of the parent company of the collapsed broker-dealer, said in his first status report. The potential recoveries for the parent company's creditors will come primarily from such claims, Freeh said in his 119-page report that was submitted to the bankruptcy court. Former bath-salts addict: 'It felt so evil' (CNN) The man is strapped onto a gurney and restrained, yet he is singing, making faces and twitching. "You know where you're at?" a paramedic asks him, but Freddy Sharp can't answer. He was, he explained later, off in his own world after overdosing on the synthetic drug known as "bath salts." "I'd never experienced anything like that," Sharp told CNN's Don Lemon. "It really actually scared me pretty bad." He said he was hallucinating about being in a mental hospital and being possessed by Jason Voorhees, the character from the "Friday the 13th" movies. "I just felt all kinds of crazy," said Sharp, now 27, of Tennessee, who says he hasn't used bath salts in months. "It felt so evil. It felt like the darkest, evilest thing imaginable." The drug made national headlines recently after a horrific crime in Miami, where a naked man chewed the face off a homeless man in what has been called a zombie-like attack. Australia Central Bank Cuts Rates to Fight Global Gloom (Reuters) Australia's central bank cut interest rates for a second month running on Tuesday in a bid to shore up confidence at home, just as finance chiefs of advanced economies around the world prepare to hold emergency talks on the euro zone debt crisis. Citing a weaker outlook abroad and only modest domestic growth, the Reserve Bank of Australia cut its cash rate by 25 basis points to 3.5 percent. Burbank Bets On Global Recession With Subprime Conviction (Bloomberg) In the dozen years that John Burbank has run his $3.4 billion Passport Capital hedge fund, he’s never been as negative on global stocks as he is now. Burbank, 48, expects that the U.S. and much of the rest of the world will slide into a recession, and he’s setting up for that event with a big wager that global stocks will fall. Most of his peers are still betting that stocks, especially those in the U.S., are more likely to rise than decline. “You have a great contrarian outcome here that will be obvious in hindsight, just like subprime was,” Burbank said in an interview last month. “I have a lot of conviction about something that others don’t seem to see clearly.” In Facebook, Options Traders Shift to Post-Earnings Bets (WSJ) While June and July bets have been most active since Facebook options began trading last Tuesday—accounting for more than half of the total options outstanding—contracts expiring in August and September have been picking up steam. Downside options that expire after the company's first public earnings report—expected at the end of July, though no date has been set—were the most actively traded Monday. The most popular positions included bets Facebook would fall below $25 a share over the next two to three months. Real life Garfield eats his way to 40-pound frame (NYDN) A tubby tabby named Garfield was dropped off at the North Shore Animal League last week tipping the scales at nearly 40 pounds, and now the no-kill shelter is hoping to turn him into the biggest loser. “He needs to lose at least 20 pounds,” shelter spokeswoman Devera Lynn said. “He’s so big, he’s like a dog. He actually has his own room.” Garfield meanders slowly in smaller spaces. He’s being moved to a foster home Tuesday in hopes that a next of kin claims the orange-and-white kitty. But if that doesn’t happen, the North Shore Animal League has received several applications from folks willing to give him a permanent home. Lynn said they’ll work with an owner to put the cat on a healthier track. “He’s actually outgoing for a cat,” Lynn said. “Once he loses that weight, he’s going to be a rock star.”

Opening Bell: 02.22.13

AIG Swings to Loss on Sandy Costs, Sale of Unit (WSJ) AIG posted a loss of $3.96 billion, or $2.68 a share, compared with profit of $21.5 billion, or $11.31, a year earlier. Its life-insurance and retirement-services business earned $1.09 billion, up 20% from a year earlier. The company also said it would take a loss of about $4.4 billion on the planned sale of a 90% stake in the plane unit, International Lease Finance Corp. AIG's full-year net income of $3.4 billion marked a sharp decline from the $20.6 billion profit the company posted for 2011, when it adjusted its balance sheet to reflect its expected use of more than $18 billion in tax benefits. CFTC Sues CME Group, Alleging Trade-Data Leaks (WSJ) U.S. regulators took aim at the world's largest futures-exchange operator, accusing CME Group Inc. and two former employees of allegedly sharing details on clients' trades with a commodities broker. The civil charges, leveled Thursday by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, mark the first time the agency has sued CME in federal court. The case also highlights how regulators have responded to flagging confidence in the financial markets by scrutinizing more closely some of Wall Street's central pillars: the exchanges. The CFTC charged a unit of Chicago-based CME and two former employees with disclosing private information about trading in its big energy markets to an outside party between 2008 and 2010 in return for meals and entertainment. CME said Thursday it would contest the charges. "Markets are too important for this [type of allegation] to be taken lightly," Bart Chilton, a CFTC commissioner, said in an interview. Citigroup bows to shareholder pressure, overhauls pay (Reuters) Citigroup said on Thursday it has overhauled an executive pay plan that shareholders rejected last year as overly generous, revising it to tie bonus payments more closely to stock performance and profitability. The company also said it will pay new Chief Executive Mike Corbat $11.5 million for his work in 2012, in line with remuneration for his peers at other major banks. The new plan was crafted after board Chairman Michael O'Neill and other directors met with "nearly 20" shareholders representing more than 30 percent of Citigroup stock, Citi said in a filing. Watchdog Says LinkedIn paid no federal income tax over past three years (NYP) The Mountain View, Calif., social network for professionals escaped the tax man because of a rule that allows companies to deduct expenses from employee stock awards, the watchdog, the Center for Tax Justice, told The Post. It’s a longstanding accounting trick that has spared many tech firms — including Amazon and Yahoo from 2009 to 2011 — from sharing any of their profits with the IRS, the CTJ said. “On $160 million profits over the last three years, LinkedIn paid zero federal income taxes,” said the CTJ’s Rebecca Wilkins. “The stock option deduction was big enough to wipe out all their taxes.” Unemployment applications up 20,000 last week to 362,000 (AP) The Labor Department said Thursday that thefour-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 8,000 to 360,750, the highest in six weeks. Trump Twitter Mystery! Who Hacked the Donald? (CNBC) In what appears to be the latest in a minor wave of attacks on Twitter accounts belonging to out-sized corporate entities, an out-of-character tweet from Donald Trump's verified account set the Internet abuzz, and then disappeared, shortly before noon ET on Thursday. "These hoes think they classy, well that's the class I'm skippen," read the suspect remark issued from @realDonaldTrump. It was a glaring non sequitur following tweets such as "Republicans must be careful with immigration—don't give our country away," and "Wow, Macy's numbers just in-Trump is doing better than ever — thanks for your great support!" "Yes, obviously the account has been hacked and we are looking for the perpetrator," Rhona Graff, senior vice president, assistant to the president of the Trump Organization, told NBC News via email. This confirmation was quickly echoed by Trump himself, in a tweet that read, "My Twitter has been seriously hacked — and we are looking for the perpetrators." UBS to Trade Equity Swaps in China in Structured-Product Push (Bloomberg) Chinese regulators last month decided to allow UBS to trade total return swaps, Thomas Fang, the bank’s managing director for equities derivatives sales for Asia, said in a phone interview. The bank will use the derivatives to create structured products tied to local stocks, with plans to boost the size of its staff in the country for the business, Fang said. The China Securities Regulatory Commission’s press office didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for confirmation. A Tax That May Change The Trading Game (NYT) The tax would be tiny for investors who buy and hold, but could prove to be significant for traders who place millions of orders a day. Under the proposal, a trade of shares worth 10,000 euros would face a tax of one-tenth of 1 percent, or 10 euros. A trade of a derivative would face a tax of one-hundredth of 1 percent. But that tax would be applied to the notional value, which can be very large relative to the cost of the derivative. So a credit-default swap on 1 million euros of debt would have a tax of 100 euros, or about 0.4 percent of the annual premium on such a swap. On Currencies, What's Fair Is Hard to Say (WSJ) What's the fair value of a euro? That depends on whether the answer comes from Berlin or Paris. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday weighed in on what the currency should be worth, saying the euro's exchange rate is "normal in the historical context." French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici had a different take earlier this month, calling the euro "perhaps too strong." Economists say Ms. Merkel is right—technically. The euro's buying power is roughly where it should be, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which judges currencies based on countries' current-account balance. But others caution Germany's relatively robust economy props up the euro's value; if weaker countries like Spain or Italy still had their own currencies, they'd be worth much less. Singapore GDP Growth Beats Initial Estimate as Asia Recovers (Bloomberg) Gross domestic product rose an annualized 3.3 percent in the three months through December from the previous quarter, when it shrank a revised 4.6 percent, the Trade Ministry said in a statement today. That compares with a January estimate of 1.8 percent and the median in a Bloomberg News survey for a 2 percent expansion. KFC employee fired for making out with boob-shaped mashed potatoes (DD) A KFC employee in Tennessee is out of a job after photos of the culprit making out with a plate of mashed potatoes ended up on Facebook. The mashed potatoes, which were apparently not served to some unknowing customer, had been arranged into the shape of a woman's boob. In the photos, the former employee can be found licking what we'd have to consider the underboob of the mashed potato mammary before throwing it into an oven. The photo became public information when it showed up on the Facebook page for Johnson City, Tenn., news channel WJHL, where it was shared 2,000 times and received more than 700 comments. Once the news organization was able to determine its locational origin—the KFC on North Roan Street—the suspected employee was terminated. KFC spokesman Rick Maynard confirmed the firing but would not name the culprit because that "wouldn't be appropriate." He stressed that the employee who took the photos is no longer with the company. "Nothing is more important to KFC than food safety," he wrote to WJHL. "As soon as our franchisee became aware of the issue, immediate action was taken.

Opening Bell: 02.20.13

Regulator set to weigh lifetime futures-trading ban for Corzine (NYP) Two directors of the National Futures Association will move tomorrow to ban Corzine from the multibillion-dollar futures trading industry in light of the scandalous collapse of MF Global — the commodity futures brokerage firm Corzine once headed. If the motion is approved, NFA would hold hearings to determine whether Corzine, MF’s former CEO, deserves a “lifetime ban” from the industry...Corzine, who declined to comment on the proposed ban, is reportedly looking to set up a hedge fund. An NFA ban would limit his ability to trade futures in any fund with outside investors, experts said. It could also hinder his ability to raise money from pension funds and other large investors, experts said. Corzine could also be asked to fork over as much as $250,000 for each violation, according to NFA rules. The proposed ban cites nine rule violations, which could ding the disgraced Corzine for as much as $2.5 million. Rhetoric Turns Harsh As Budget Cuts Loom (WSJ) With less than two weeks to go before the latest fiscal face-off, rhetoric heated up Tuesday as the political parties exchanged fire over whom to blame if looming spending cuts take effect. With Congress in recess this week, Republican and Democratic leaders sent lawmakers home armed with fact sheets about the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts due to start March 1, and talking points on how to blame the other side. Meantime, the White House and lawmakers are making no progress toward forging a compromise to avoid the reductions, which are known in Washington as the sequester. Thousands of Greeks Rally in Anti-Austerity Strike (Reuters) Tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday during a nationwide strike against wage cuts and high taxes that kept ferries stuck in ports, schools shut and hospitals with only emergency staff. Beating drums and chanting "Robbers, robbers!" more than 60,000 people marched to parliament in the biggest anti-austerity protest so far this year. The two biggest labour unions brought much of crisis-hit Greece to a standstill during the 24-hour protest against policies which they say deepen the hardship of people struggling through the country's worst peacetime downturn. Judge Says Einhorn Hedge Fund May Succeed in Apple Case (Reuters) David Einhorn's hedge fund has shown a "likelihood of success" if his legal attack against Apple goes forward, a U.S. judge said, though he made no immediate ruling on fund's request to block a shareholder vote on a proxy proposal next week. U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan on Tuesday reserved decision on a lawsuit by the fund, Greenlight Capital, to stop a Feb. 27 shareholder vote on an Apple proposal to end the issuance of preferred stock without investor approval. "Candidly I do think the likelihood of success is in favor for Greenlight," Sullivan said at a court hearing in New York. Big Anglo-French Buyout Planned (FT) A British-based private equity consortium is preparing a bid of 3.5 billion euros for French catering company Elior in what would be the biggest buyout in continental Europe since Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008. CVC Capital Partners and BC Partners have teamed up to launch a buyout of Elior, underlining how confidence is returning to Europe's private equity sector. New York mom charged with child endangerment after hiring strippers to perform lap dances at her 16-year-old son's birthday party (NYDN) Judy Viger, 33, hired the women from a company called Tops in Bottoms and arranged for them to perform in a private room at the Spare Time Bowling Center in South Glens Falls on Nov. 3. At the party, the women performed what police describe as “personal and intimate” dances with the party guests, some of whom were as young as 13. Approximately 80 people attended the party, including a 13-year-old and many adults who later said they were outraged at the sexually charged performances. Police were alerted to the party activities after raunchy photos of the lap dances were posted online. The mother of a 15-year-old boy who attended the party saw some of the photos on her son’s Facebook page and alerted South Glens Falls authorities...The company providing the strippers said that the dancers were unaware that the kids at the party were underage, local CBS affiliate WRGB reported, and that the incident was being “blown out of proportion.” Heinz Deal Feeds Chatter About Food-Industry Consolidation (WSJ) The deal sparked speculation of what Heinz may want to buy and what other food company has the wherewithal to become a consolidator. With the potential for more tie-ups, that may also jar loose some brands or businesses—possibly Heinz's underperforming frozen-foods business—that could make a nice fit in another company's pantry. The speculation makes just about everyone a buyer or a seller. "Most of what food companies discuss at the conference will now be taken in the context of what it may mean for further industry consolidation or portfolio change," Barclays packaged-food analyst Andrew Lazar said. Brink’s Says Brussels Diamond Robbery Will Hurt Quarter’s Profit (Bloomberg) Brink’s Co., a provider of armored cars to transport valuables, said a diamond robbery at Brussels airport will have a “significant impact” on first-quarter earnings. A portion of the gems stolen two days ago was being shipped by Brink’s, the Richmond, Virgina-based company said today in a statement. The Antwerp World Diamond Centre has said about $50 million of rough and polished diamonds were stolen as the gems were being loaded onto a plane bound for Switzerland. Revel Into Chapter 11 (AP) Revel, the casino many people had hoped would turn around Atlantic City’s sagging fortunes, said yesterday that it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, less than a year after it opened. The voluntary, prepackaged bankruptcy envisioned for late March will wipe away about two-thirds of its $1.5 billion in debt by converting more than $1 billion of it into equity for lenders. JPMorgan Leads U.S. Banks Lending Least Deposits in 5 Years (Bloomberg) The biggest U.S. banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. are lending the smallest portion of their deposits in five years as cash floods in from savers and a slow economy damps demand from borrowers. The average loan-to-deposit ratio for the top eight commercial banks fell to 84 percent in the fourth quarter from 87 percent a year earlier and 101 percent in 2007, according to data compiled by Credit Suisse Group AG. Lending as a proportion of deposits dropped at five of the banks and was unchanged at two, the data show. New Grey Poupon 'Pardon Me' ad to air during Oscars (AP) After a 16-year hiatus, the mustard that mocked its own stuffy image in one of TV’s most famous commercials will once again take to the airwaves during the Feb. 24 Academy Awards show. The spot comes as Kraft Foods looks to boost sagging sales of the Dijon mustard, which is facing competition from a growing variety of high-end condiments on supermarket shelves. The new ad begins in the same way as the original — an aristocratic English gentleman is being chauffeured in the countryside, when another car pulls up alongside them at a stop. The back window rolls down and a second man asks in an over-the-top snooty accent, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?”