News Archive

Credit union regulator sues Morgan Stanley over mortgage losses

Fri Aug 30, 2013 5:48pm EDT

(Reuters) – Morgan Stanley (MS.N) is being sued by a U.S. credit union regulator to recover losses on more than $566 million of residential mortgage-backed securities sold to two corporate credit unions that later failed.

The National Credit Union Administration said on Friday that Morgan Stanley made misrepresentations in offering documents for securities sold between 2004 and 2007 to the U.S. Central Federal Credit Union, once the largest federally chartered corporate credit union, and the Western Corporate Federal Credit Union.

“Originators had systematically abandoned the stated underwriting guidelines in the offering documents,” according to an August 16 complaint filed in a Kansas federal court. “A material percentage of the loans were all but certain to become delinquent or default shortly after origination. As a result, the RMBS were destined from inception to perform poorly.”

Morgan Stanley spokeswoman Mary Claire Delaney declined to comment. An NCUA spokesman said the regulator waited to issue a statement about the case until all defendants were served with the complaint.

The NCUA said it has 11 lawsuits pending against banks, including JPMorgan Chase Co (JPM.N) on behalf of five credit unions it seized in 2009 and 2010 after the housing crisis caused losses on more than $14 billion of RMBS that they bought.

Roughly half of the securities at issue in these lawsuits were sold by JPMorgan, or Bear Stearns Cos or Washington Mutual Inc, both of which JPMorgan bought in 2008.

The NCUA got a boost on Tuesday when a federal appeals court in Denver said the regulator could use an “extender” provision in the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 to pursue some claims that would otherwise be deemed too late.

Based in Alexandria, Virginia, the NCUA has so far reached $335 million of settlements with Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), Citigroup Inc (C.N), Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE) and HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA.L).

The case is National Credit Union Administration Board v. Morgan Stanley Co et al, U.S. District Court, District of Kansas, No. 13-02418.

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Analysis: Carlos Slim’s Dutch woes test appetite for European expansion

Fri Aug 30, 2013 5:07pm EDT

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Billionaire Mexican businessman Carlos Slim is facing an unfamiliar challenge as he seeks to steer his flagship phone company America Movil into Europe – dissent.

A surprise move by a Dutch foundation to block America Movil’s 7.2 billion euros ($9.49 billion) offer for the 70 percent of Dutch group KPN it does not own could force Slim to retreat and risk heavy losses if he sells his investment.

In the short term, walking away from KPN might not be unpopular with shareholders who have already lost some faith in an expansion effort that has handed America Movil (AMXL.MX) (AMX.N) some $2 billion in paper losses related to KPN (KPN.AS).

America Movil shares climbed more than 1 percent on Friday after a Slim spokesman said the firm had no intention of raising its offer for the Dutch company following pressure from the KPN foundation that the bid be sweetened.

“We are certainly not prepared to negotiate on price, we are also not prepared to negotiate an arrangement where management puts any restrictions on us,” Slim’s son-in-law and key spokesman Arturo Elias said in an interview with Reuters.

Asked whether the company would retain its almost 30 percent stake if its bid for the rest of KPN fails, Elias said: “That is something we also will have to carefully analyze.”

However, if tycoon Slim did abandon his investment in KPN, it would cast doubt over the company’s stated strategy of seeking expansion opportunities beyond Latin America, where regulators are increasingly squeezing America Movil’s profit.

“It would mean (the) plan to diversify had failed and would be a sign that outside Latin America, Mr. Slim’s negotiating skills are less deft,” Sanford C Bernstein analyst Robin Bienenstock wrote before America Movil ruled out a higher offer.

America Movil, whose market dominance is presently facing stiff challenges from regulators in Mexico and Colombia, had offered 2.40 euros a share for KPN, which has been trading around 2.30 since the offer and slipped to 2.20 on Friday.

The offer price was about 25 percent below the average price Slim’s company paid to acquire a 29.77 percent stake in KPN last year and to add shares in a rights issue earlier this year.

The KPN foundation, which was set up to protect the interests of shareholders, employees, customers, trade unions and “Dutch society more generally,” when the former state monopoly was being privatized, is not convinced by Slim’s bid.

It argued KPN’s interests were at risk because America Movil had not consulted with KPN before making its offer. Slim’s spokesman Elias forcefully rejected this and said the Mexican company had been shown a “total lack of respect.”


Slim’s executives at America Movil have said that the company is investing in the struggling Dutch company and Telekom Austria (TELA.VI) for the long term, as part of a wider expansion away from Latin America.

Mexico, which accounts for about one third of America Movil’s revenue and almost one half of its core profit, passed a major telecoms reform earlier this year to curb Slim’s dominance that could result in the billionaire having to sell assets.

But in contrast with America Movil’s expansion throughout 18 countries in Latin America, where Slim has quickly and easily added cheap acquisitions to form the region’s biggest phone company, the European effort has been complicated.

Even before the KPN foundation’s move, Slim’s bid for the Dutch telecom lost him some supporters as investors and analysts noted America Movil would be paying unusually dearly for KPN, which has reported a core profit that is down 12 percent in the first half of this year from the first half of 2012.

“I feel like that money would be much better spent in Latin America,” said Andy Castonguay, analyst at Machina Research.

America Movil’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were down 4.5 percent in the first half of this year from the same period in 2012.

Shares in America Movil are also under pressure, down more than 8 percent since it said on August 9 it wanted the rest of KPN. The company’s stock is down 13 percent in the year to date.

The KPN offer seems to have compounded existing concerns among some long-time America Movil investors.

Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners in New York, said that he has cut his investment in America Movil in the last couple of years because of the estimated reduction in growth rates as well as the sliding stock price.

Rick Hoss, co-portfolio manager of the Latin America Fund at Euro Pacific Asset Management, said the fund sold its America Movil shares earlier this year, as concern deepened that Mexico’s telecom reform could further trim the company’s profit.


A short-term plus for the shares, if Slim were to abandon his bid for KPN, would be extra money to spend on an aggressive share buyback program. America Movil has been limiting the slide in its stock price by buying back each day this year more than 10 percent of its average daily trading volume.

The firm has spent 55 billion pesos ($4.14 billion) year to date buying back 4.2 million shares or 5 percent of its total outstanding shares, according to Reuters calculations.

It could also free up funds to spend elsewhere – if the KPN situation does not put Slim off of Europe.

“If we do withdraw from (the KPN) bid, we will analyze what possibilities there are, but there’s nothing on the cards right now,” said Elias. “We always look into every opportunity.”

An Austrian newspaper this week reported that Telekom Austria is seeking to raise 500 million euros in capital and it is assured of Slim’s participation.

America Movil would have to pay 9.50 euros a share for more of the Austrian firm – the price Slim paid to acquire the stake last year – but only until September 25, when a deadline expires.

Telekom Austria shares closed at 5.48 euros on Thursday.

To be sure, Slim’s America Movil still has many fans who are confident in his European strategy.

“This is a little glitch,” said Jeff Auxier, chief executive of Auxier Asset Management in Oregon, which holds America Movil shares and debt. “But the bigger picture is that Europe is coming out of a recession and (America Movil) has the expertise and cash to invest heavily in infrastructure and technology.”

“I just like (Slim’s) track record,” he said, adding that with America Movil shares trading lower this year, Auxier said he believes this is a good entry point. “When you are buying America Movil at this price, you have a huge margin of safety.”

Still, of 15 analysts covering America Movil’s U.S.-listed stock, Thomson Reuters StarMine shows 10 have a ‘hold’ rating. Only two rate the shares either a ‘buy’ or a ‘strong buy’.

(Writing by Elinor Comlay, additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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Hundreds of Fosamax lawsuits versus Merck ordered readied for trial

Fri Aug 30, 2013 4:51pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal judge overseeing consolidated litigation against Merck Co over jaw injuries allegedly caused by the osteoporosis drug Fosamax has ordered hundreds of cases be dispersed to courts across the country for trial.

The decision by U.S. District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan marks an unusual and potentially costly development for Merck.

Companies often find it easier to reach settlements in mass tort cases that are consolidated before one judge.

“It’s a big deal as it changes the cost paradigm for Merck exponentially,” said Timothy O’Brien, a partner at Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty Proctor and lawyer representing Fosamax plaintiffs.

The judge’s order Thursday requires that 200 cases per month be sent to back to courts where they were initially filed, beginning with the oldest ones.

Lainie Keller, a spokeswoman for Merck, said the company “is committed to defending its conduct in regard to Fosamax and has confidence in its defense strategy that has had so much success in the courts.”

The cases before Keenan comprised roughly one-fifth of the 5,075 lawsuits pending nationally in federal and state courts related to Fosamax, a one-time blockbuster medication.

Lawsuits alleging that plaintiffs developed osteonecrosis of the jaw from Fosamax were consolidated before Keenan in 2006.

The judge conducted a series of “bellwether” trials, allowing the parties to assess trends and outcomes in similar cases. A series of wins for plaintiffs, for example, can put them in a better position for settlement talks.

The final Fosamax bellwether trial before Keenan ended in February with a $285,000 verdict for plaintiff Rhoda Scheinberg.

Merck lost just one other of the five bellwether trials before Keenan, when a jury in 2010 awarded Florida resident Shirley Boles $8 million, a sum the judge reduced to $1.5 million.

Keenan’s order on Friday came after mediation to resolve 370 cases broke down two weeks ago. O’Brien’s law firm and another firm represented plaintiffs in those cases.

Another 104 lawsuits brought by another firm could have been added to the talks if a deal on value was reached, O’Brien said.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs had sought to have 300 cases transferred every four months, while Merck sought to have just 100 cases scheduled for discovery over a six-month period.

Merck has benefited from having the litigation consolidated.

Keenan had thrown out 430 cases after he issued an order last November, which Merck had sought, requiring them to put forth expert reports showing scientific proof of their claims.

But in his order Friday, Keenan said Merck’s latest proposal would “unnecessarily prolong” the proceedings before him.

Keenan ordered plaintiffs to recommend by October 11 where to sent the first batch of cases.

An order moving so many personal injury cases home at once is rare, O’Brien said. He noted that Merck reached a $4.85 billion settlement with over the painkiller Vioxx in 2007 only after a federal judge threatened a similar order.

“I anticipate Merck will continue talking and seek to resolve the cases,” O’Brien said. “The opportunity is there.”

The case is In Re Fosamax Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 06-md-01789.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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Regulators agree on global swap rules ahead of G20 summit

Fri Aug 30, 2013 4:32pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Finance watchdogs on Friday laid out joint rules for the $630 trillion derivatives industry that was at the core of the 2007-09 credit meltdown, in a report to the G20 most powerful economies of the world.

The high-level agreement comes ahead of a G20 summit next week in St Petersburg, Russia, where world leaders will discuss progress they have made to tighten the rules for banks and prevent a repeat of the devastating crisis.

While much progress toward the global reform agenda had been made, other points still needed to be sorted out, regulators from around the world said in a statement.

“The resolution of the unresolved issues is important,” the group of supervisory agencies said in a report that was disseminated by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the country’s top derivatives regulator.

Diverging views on how to rein in the banks that dominate derivatives trading caused a trans-Atlantic rift last year between Gary Gensler, head of the CFTC, and politicians and regulators in Europe and elsewhere.

But in July, the CFTC reached an agreement with the European Union that allowed foreign branches of banks to comply with local rules, as long as they are compatible with the rules their parent organizations must obey at home.

Regulators from Australia, Brazil, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States now also broadly subscribe to that view, they said, explaining how they would assess whether the rules are comparable.

The principle allowing a bank branch to comply with foreign rules is known as equivalence, or substituted compliance.

While seemingly abstract, minute details in the hundreds of pages of new regulation written after the crisis can have a life-changing impact on banks such as JP Morgan Chase Co (JPM.N), Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) or Citigroup Inc (C.N).

There could be an exception from the equivalence principle if a jurisdiction imposed requirements on trading that did not exist in the other jurisdiction, the regulators said.

In that case, the market parties would still have to comply with the requirements even if the rules in the two jurisdictions were comparable, the report said.

The same was true for clearing – the process where buyers and sellers send their orders through clearing houses, which function as traffic control centers.

Two areas still needed to be resolved, the regulators said. One was how to deal with local data protection laws that could block regulators’ access to banks’ books.

More work was also needed on the exact legal status of bank branches and guaranteed subsidiaries in foreign jurisdictions, something that can have an impact on whether the parent company is responsible for losses or not.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Wall Street falls, ends worst month since May 2012

Fri Aug 30, 2013 4:30pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks fell in a thinly traded session on Friday as the SP 500 index recorded its steepest decline since May 2012 and investors avoided making large bets before a long weekend with the situation about Syria still uncertain.

Afternoon trading was volatile, with indexes swinging between break-even levels and solid losses as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in televised remarks that Syria’s government used poison gas against civilians and made the case for a limited military response.

President Barack Obama said later he has not made a final decision on a response to Syria.

“People are uneasy not knowing what’s going on,” said John Carey, portfolio manager at Pioneer Investment Management in Boston. “With that uncertainty and going into the Labor Day holiday, we’re seeing people step back.”

The SP 500 fell 3.1 percent in August and lost 1.8 percent for the week in a third decline in the past four weeks.

The CBOE Volatility index .VIX rose 2.2 percent, bringing its weekly rise to 22 percent. Trading was light ahead of Monday’s market holiday for Labor Day. About 3.99 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.31 billion shares.

“I tend to view the weakness as a buying opportunity, barring some global crisis,” said Carey, who helps oversee about $200 billion in assets. “Syria isn’t the crisis in and of itself, but if we do take military action, there could be repercussions.” Military action “is always very risky.”

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 33.26 points, or 0.22 percent, at 14,807.69. The Standard Poor’s 500 Index .SPX fell 5.40 points, or 0.33 percent, at 1,632.77. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was down 30.44 points, or 0.84 percent, at 3,589.87.

The Nasdaq fell 1.9 percent for the week while the Dow slid 1.3 percent in its fourth straight weekly loss. For the month, the Dow fell 4.4 percent and the Nasdaq lost 1 percent. Only one of the 30 Dow components, Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), ended higher for the month.

Almost 70 percent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed lower while 73 percent of Nasdaq-listed shares ended in negative territory.

Video game companies were among the Nasdaq’s biggest decliners on Friday. Electronic Arts (EA.O) fell 3.4 percent to $26.64 while Activision Blizzard (ATVI.O) fell 2.6 percent to $16.32.

Weak data on individual spending and tame inflation painted a picture of a soft economy, keeping investors guessing when the Federal Reserve might start to cut back on stimulus measures.

Consumer spending rose only 0.1 percent and inflation was tame in July, with a price index for consumer spending up 0.1 percent.

Other data showed the pace of business activity in the U.S. Midwest increased in August, as the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago business barometer rose to 53.0 from 52.3 in July, matching economists’ expectations.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s final reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment slipped to 82.1 in August from 85.1 in July, but managed to top economists’ expectations for a final read of 80.5. Inc (CRM.N) jumped 12.6 percent to $49.13 and was the best performer in the SP 500 after the company raised its fiscal 2014 sales outlook after reporting better-than-expected revenue and earnings.

Apache Corp (APA.N) climbed 9 percent to $85.68 after the oil and gas producer said it was selling a 33 percent stake in its Egypt oil and gas business for $3.1 billion to state-owned Chinese oil giant Sinopec Group.

Omnivision Technologies Inc (OVTI.O) tumbled 16 percent to $15.45 after the chipmaker forecast current-quarter adjusted profit largely below expectations as rising competition and a slowdown of U.S. smartphone sales led to an inventory pile-up.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Perry ups ownership stake in J.C. Penney to 8.6 percent

Fri Aug 30, 2013 3:45pm EDT

(Reuters) – Hedge fund manager Richard Perry, already a big owner in J.C. Penney Co Inc (JCP.N), bought additional shares in the retailer on Friday, according to a regulatory filing made just days after the largest investor announced plans to sell his stake.

Perry Corp said it bought an additional 3 million shares of Plano, Texas-based Penney in a secondary offering for $12.90 a share and that it now owns 8.62 percent of the company.

Perry now ranks as Penney’s second-largest investor after George Soros. Perry Corp did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The announcement comes four days after William Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital Management had been the largest shareholder, said he was exiting his entire 18 percent stake. Citigroup Inc (C.N) was offering the shares in the secondary market at $12.90 in a deal scheduled to close on Friday, Ackman said on Monday.

Penney shares were flat at $12.40 on Friday afternoon, having tumbled 37.3 percent since January as the company struggles to attract new customers after former chief executive Ron Johnson alienated many shoppers with plans to upgrade merchandise and streamline pricing strategies.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Exclusive: America Movil says has no intention of raising KPN offer

Fri Aug 30, 2013 3:22pm EDT

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican telecoms firm America Movil (AMXL.MX) on Friday hit out at efforts to make it improve its offer for Dutch peer KPN, saying it had been shown a lack of respect, and had no intention of raising its 7.2 billion-euro ($9.49 billion) bid.

The flagship company of Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim was taken aback when a foundation linked to KPN said on Thursday it would block America Movil’s bid if it did not improve the offer, Slim’s chief spokesman, Arturo Elias, told Reuters.

Elias said there was “no way” America Movil would pay more for KPN and hinted that if Slim did not gain control of the company, it could walk away from KPN altogether.

“We are certainly not prepared to negotiate on price, we are also not prepared to negotiate an arrangement where management put any restrictions on us,” he said.

Asked whether the company would retain its 30 percent stake in the event its bid for the rest of KPN fails, Elias said: “That is something we also will have to carefully analyze.”

Seeking to expand its business outside its core market of Latin America, America Movil acquired nearly 30 percent of the Dutch company last year, and earlier this month announced it wanted to buy up the rest of KPN.

Elias said America Movil had clearly demonstrated its commitment to investing in the Dutch firm, helping KPN to raise an additional 3 billion euros in capital earlier this year.

But after the KPN foundation’s announcement that it had sought control of nearly 50 percent of the Dutch firm to block Slim’s takeover, America Movil threatened to withdraw its bid if its plans continued to face such resistance.

The KPN foundation, set up to look after the interests of shareholders, employees, customers, trade unions and “Dutch society more generally,” when the former state monopoly was privatized, argued KPN’s interests were at risk because America Movil had not consulted with KPN before making its offer.

Elias chafed at that suggestion, however.

“Having called this a hostile takeover, when it wasn’t, when on the contrary we’ve had lots of conversations with (KPN’s) management, strikes me as a total lack of respect,” he said.

(Writing by Dave Graham and Gabriel Stargardter; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Italy’s Banca Marche put under special administration

Fri Aug 30, 2013 2:56pm EDT

MILAN (Reuters) – Italian lender Banca Marche has been placed under special administration by the Bank of Italy, becoming the biggest casualty so far of an extended round of balance sheet inspections by the central bank.

Smaller lenders such as Marche are bearing the brunt of Italy’s longest recession since World War II, with soaring bad debts stretching their finances, and analysts say some will need more investor capital or state aid.

Banca Marche, one of Italy’s top 20 banks, said the Bank of Italy had effectively taken over management after it posted a net loss of 232 million euros ($305.9 million) in the first half due to big writedowns on its loan portfolio.

The lender, the target of an extensive audit by the central bank, said on Friday its Core Tier 1 ratio – a key measure of financial strength – had fallen to 4.29 percent at the end of June, making it one of the weakest in Italy.

Bigger rivals such as UniCredit (CRDI.MI), Intesa Sanpaolo (ISP.MI), UBI (UBI.MI) and Banco Popolare (BAPO.MI) have ratios of between 9.5 and 11 percent.

The bank had approved a 300 million euro share issue to be carried out by the end of this year, but said on Friday that neither its current shareholders nor new investors had made a binding commitment to take part in the cash call.

The lender had also tried to place a bond for up to 100 million euros with a hefty 12.5 percent coupon by the end of July. However, its Friday statement said the take-up for the bond so far was just 25 million euros.


The unlisted 312-branch lender said the Bank of Italy had temporarily suspended its board of directors and internal auditors from their functions and had appointed two special administrators who took office on Friday.

“The measure was taken also in view of the first-half results,” said Banca Marche, in which Intesa Sanpaolo has a 5.8 percent stake.

It added that the special administrators would be tasked with putting in place the necessary steps to shore up the bank’s weak capital base. The Bank of Italy took a similar measure for smaller peer Banca Popolare di Spoleto in February.

Banca Marche said writedowns on loans totalled 451.8 million euros in the first half, or 373 million more than in the same period of 2012. Problematic loans grew by 15 percent and accounted for 24 percent of total loans, it said.

The writedowns were 170 million euros higher than what the bank had forecast on August 1 and were the result of an “extraordinary review” of the bank’s loan portfolio to meet the requests of the Bank of Italy, the lender said.

The Italian central bank, which has been carrying out an inspection of bad loans at 20 of the country’s banks since last autumn, said at the end of July it had extended its checks to the entire loan portfolio of eight smaller lenders.

The closer scrutiny is meant to accelerate a clean-up of Italian banks’ balance sheets before the European Central Bank takes over supervision of euro zone lenders in 2014.

Banca Marche’s woes are likely to raise more questions over the role played by banking foundations – charitable entities with close ties to local politicians – in Italian banks after the scandal that engulfed Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS.MI).

Banca Marche is controlled by three cash-strapped foundations which have a combined stake in the lender of 56 percent. It had already booked a net loss of 526 million euros in 2012.

($1 = 0.7584 euros)

(Editing by David Holmes and Tom Pfeiffer)

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Apple rolls out iPhone trade-in program in U.S. stores

Fri Aug 30, 2013 2:37pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Apple Inc has launched a trade-in program in its U.S. retail stores for older models of its iPhone as it gears up for the launch of a new version of the smartphone, it said on Friday.

Apple will give customers a credit for their old phones to be used toward the purchase of a new model, an Apple spokeswoman said.

A thriving industry exists for older versions of smartphones, especially the iPhone, on websites such as eBay and Gazelle. Even broken iPhones can fetch as much as $125 from vendors, who resell them in the United States and internationally.

Gazelle Chief Executive Israel Ganot estimated the used smartphone and tablet market in the United States will reach $14 billion by 2015.

“So there’s obviously a huge opportunity here for multiple players,” he said.

Apple shares dipped nearly 1 percent to $487.46.

(Reporting by Poornima Gupta; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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