News Archive

Ally executive to become Freddie Mac’s finance chief

Mon Sep 30, 2013 5:58pm EDT

(Reuters) – Government-owned mortgage giant Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB) said on Monday it has named James Mackey, a top executive at Ally Financial Inc, as its chief financial officer.

Mackey will replace Ross Kari, who announced his retirement from Freddie Mac in December 2012, and will report to chief executive officer Donald Layton.

Since June 2011, Mackey has served as Ally’s finance chief. In a separate announcement, Ally announced that corporate treasurer Christopher Halmy will succeed Mackey effective November 8.

Like Freddie Mac, Ally has operated for years under heavy government ownership, and Mackey’s track record at a company in a similar situation to Freddie Mac will prove “extremely valuable” in his new position, Layton said in a statement.

Freddie Mac reported a $5.0 billion profit in the second quarter, its second largest ever.

Lawmakers are currently debating proposals regarding how the U.S. government should exit its stake in Freddie Mac. A stake the government has held since the financial crisis in September 2008, when it rescued the failing mortgage finance company.

President Barack Obama urged Congress in an August speech to overhaul Freddie Mac and its larger, sister company Fannie Mae, which own or guarantee more than half of all U.S. mortgages, though such a process would likely take years.

(Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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Ex-Morgan Stanley broker pleads guilty in insider trading case

Mon Sep 30, 2013 5:56pm EDT

(Reuters) – A former Morgan Stanley financial adviser pleaded guilty to an insider trading charge for tipping a childhood friend to Gilead Sciences Inc’s plan in 2011 to buy Pharmasset Inc, three days before the $11.2 billion takeover was announced, court and regulatory records show.

Kevin Dowd, 38, on Monday pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud before U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson in Trenton, New Jersey.

The Boca Raton, Florida resident faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on January 15, 2014.

Dowd’s plea was announced by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in New Jersey.

Peter Willis, a lawyer for Dowd, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to court papers, Dowd learned about the pending merger from a Pharmasset director, who had been the largest customer of the Aventura, Florida branch where Dowd had worked.

Prosecutors said Dowd on November 18, 2011 told his friend about the merger, prompting the friend to buy $196,000 of Pharmasset stock and pass on the tip to another investor who bought Pharmasset call options, also betting the stock would rise.

Those bets paid off after the merger of the two makers of antiviral drugs was announced on November 21, 2011, valuing Princeton, New Jersey-based Pharmasset at a roughly 89 percent premium over its share price at the time.

Prosecutors said Dowd’s friend netted a $163,621 profit after buying $195,808 of Pharmasset stock, while the other investor netted a $544,706 profit on the stock options.

According to prosecutors, Dowd admitted to receiving a $35,000 cashier’s check in exchange for the initial tip.

Dowd’s friend and the person tipped by that friend are identified only by their initials in court papers.

Brokerage records show that Dowd worked for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Aventura at the time of the tip, but is no longer registered with a brokerage.

Morgan Stanley said after Dowd’s arrest in January that it had cooperated with authorities, and that Dowd had been fired in December 2012.

Gilead is based in Foster City, California.

The case is U.S. v. Dowd, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, No. 13-cr-00636.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)

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U.S. auto sales seen stalling in September after torrid summer

Mon Sep 30, 2013 2:19pm EDT

DETROIT (Reuters) – The U.S. auto industry’s sizzling summer pace stalled in September for the first year-on-year sales decline in more than two years as the month suffered because part of the Labor Day shopping weekend landed in August and there were two fewer days than last year to buy.

Analysts who closely watch the auto industry predict September’s annual sales rate will be in a range of 15.2 million to 15.7 million on an annualized basis. The lower end of that range would fall short of summer’s torrid pace, which included a 16 million rate in August that marked the strongest performance in nearly six years.

Despite September’s expected sales decline of 2 percent to 5 percent, analysts expect the industry’s momentum – it has largely outperformed the broader economy – to continue in the fourth quarter and into 2014 as the factors driving demand still remain in place.

“Consumer confidence is relatively high, unemployment ticked down to 7.3 percent in August, and we continue to see increases in home prices and construction activity,” Jefferies analyst Elaine Kwei said in a research note.

Auto sales will be reported by major automakers on Tuesday. Because they are seen as an early monthly indicator of consumer spending, analysts will be watching closely to see if consumer sentiment is suffering amid talk of a federal government shutdown.

U.S. consumer sentiment slid in September to its lowest level in five months as Americans expect higher interest rates and sluggish economic growth ahead, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey.

However, the federal government also said that U.S. household spending rose 0.3 percent in August from July. Incomes were buoyed by solid wage gains, a sign that momentum could be growing in the U.S. economy despite months of harsh government austerity., RBC Capital Markets, Sterne Agee, UBS and Barclays all expect September auto sales to show a annualized selling rate of 15.4 million vehicles, or about 1.15 million in monthly sales, down about 3 percent.

That would be below last September’s 1.19 million in U.S. sales. said it would be the first time since June 2011 that a month did not show a year-on-year sales gain.

Also working against September sales in comparison with a year ago is the fact that the Labor Day weekend was shared with August, adding to that month’s sales at the expense of September’s. Barclays analyst Brian Johnson called the expected September sales decline “nothing more than noise.”

“Labor Day sales clearly pulled ahead from September volume and resulted in a lackluster month,” TrueCar analyst Jesse Toprak said. “The uncertainty in the financial markets also finally caught up with auto sales, causing some hesitation for big-ticket items purchases.”

Due in large part to the two fewer selling days, most of the biggest automakers will show a decline or only marginal gains in September sales, analysts said.

General Motors Co (GM.N), No. 1 in U.S. sales, will show a decline of 1 percent to 7 percent, analysts said.

Analysts were mixed on the September performance of Toyota Motor Co (7203.T). Kelley Blue Book predicted the top Japanese automaker will report a 3-percent sales increase, but most analysts had the company’s sales falling in a range of 1 percent to 7 percent.

Analyst forecasts were also mixed for Ford Motor Co’s (F.N) September sales, with estimates ranging from a decline of 3 percent to a gain of 5 percent. Ford in the past two months has ranked No. 3 in U.S. auto sales.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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American Airlines plans to hire 1,500 pilots

Mon Sep 30, 2013 1:59pm EDT

(Reuters) – American Airlines plans to hire 1,500 pilots over the next five years as it expands international flying and takes delivery of new planes, the carrier said on Monday.

The AMR Corp unit, which has been operating under Chapter 11 protection since late 2011 and is looking to emerge from bankruptcy by merging with US Airways Group Inc, said it will post open jobs October 1 and start training in winter.

The Fort Worth-based company said its plans call for hiring and training 40 to 50 pilots a month beginning this winter. The airline is also in the process of hiring and training 1,500 new flight attendants.

The hiring reflects operational needs, projected retirements and new Federal Aviation Administration rules requiring increased experience and rest for pilots, American Airlines said in a statement. The planned merger has no bearing on the hiring plans, a spokesman added.

“While this is welcome news for our pilot families, we continue to believe the core ingredient in creating pilot job security and hiring is in developing a network that can compete with Delta, United and Southwest by merging with US Airways,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association union that represents American’s pilots.

AMR Chief Executive Officer Tom Horton said the carrier was still open to talks to settle the U.S. Justice Department lawsuit that seeks to block the merger with US Airways. A federal judge will hear the case without a jury in November and decide whether the merger can go forward.

Demand for pilots is rising. Earlier this month, United Continental Holdings said it would call back nearly 600 pilots currently on furlough. United, which has more than 12,000 pilots, added that no pilots would be on furlough following its recall.

American Airlines, which has renegotiated plane leases, cut management and frozen pension plans to lower costs in Chapter 11, also reported improved financial results on Monday for the month of August.

Revenue rose 7 percent in the month to $2.34 billion from August 2012. Net income was $71 million for the month, compared with a net loss of about $82 million a year ago. Excluding reorganization expenses and special items, August earnings were $165 million, up from $56 million last year.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Leslie Gevirtz)

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BP knew 2010 U.S. Gulf spill was risk, lawyers tell trial

Mon Sep 30, 2013 1:31pm EDT

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Long before the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, BP (BP.L) knew its Macondo well could explode and then lied about how much oil leaked, plaintiffs’ lawyers said at the opening of the second phase of the company’s trial on Monday.

The British oil major is fighting to hold down fines that could hit $18 billion at the trial in New Orleans, which will determine responsibilities for the worst marine pollution disaster in the United States.

“BP refused to spend any time or money preparing to stop a deepwater blowout at its source,” said Brian Barr, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, which include people affected by the spill, the U.S. government and Gulf states.

“BP then made the situation worse,” Barr said. “By lying about the amount of flow from the well.”

In response, a lawyer for BP told the U.S. District Court that the company followed U.S. spill preparation standards.

The second phase of the trial, expected to last a month, is focused on how much oil spewed from the well and whether a series of efforts BP made to cap it over 87 days were adequate.

“BP had a response plan that was fully consistent with U.S. standards for spill preparedness,” said a BP lawyer, Mike Brock. “BP did not misrepresent the flow rate in a way that caused a delay in the shut in of the well. It made reasonable decisions based on what was known at each step along the way.”

In the costliest scenario the fines under the Clean Water Act could reach $17.6 billion – an amount well beyond the $42 billion BP has so far set aside for clean-up, compensation and damages.

The first phase of the trial, which wrapped up in April, looked at dividing blame among BP and its contractors, Transocean Ltd (RIG.N) and Halliburton Co (HAL.N), for the disaster that left 11 men dead and huge stretches of sea and coast fouled with oil.

The U.S. government says 4.9 million barrels were spilled in the worst offshore disaster in U.S. history in April 2010. BP says 3.26 million barrels leaked from the well during the nearly three months it took to cap the blowout at the Deepwater Horizon rig. Both those totals include 810,000 barrels that were collected during clean-up that the judge has agreed to exclude.

Judge Carl Barbier is not expected to assign penalties for BP until early next year in the third phase of the trial.

Under the Clean Water Act, negligence can be punished with a maximum fine of $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled; a gross negligence verdict carries a potential $4,300 per barrel fine.

If the court judged the spill to have been 4.09 million barrels – the government estimate less oil recovered – the price of negligence could reach $4.5 billion. Gross negligence could run to $17.6 billion.

BP shares have lost a third of their value since the disaster, as the company hived off $39 billion of assets that generated $5 billion a year in cashflow – or about a fifth of its earning power – before 2010.

The case is In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 10-md-02179.

(Reporting By Kathy Finn; Writing by Terry Wade; Editing by Grant McCool)

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Osram to cut 900 jobs in North America

Mon Sep 30, 2013 1:18pm EDT

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German lighting maker Osram Licht AG (OSRn.DE) said it will shut down some of its lighting maintenance sites in the United States and Canada as it shifts its business away from traditional street lights to LED technology.

Osram said the restructuring at Osram Sylvania will affect around 900 staff. A spokesman declined to give staff numbers for Sylvania.

The company, which was spun off from Siemens in July, is slashing jobs and selling factories, having come under pressure to invest in LED technology to keep up with rivals.

(Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by David Cowell)

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Boeing taking steps to make 787 more dependable

Mon Sep 30, 2013 1:06pm EDT

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Boeing acknowledged the reliability issues of its 787 Dreamliners on Monday, and said it is taking steps to make the new high-tech plane more dependable.

“Today, the reliability of the 787 is better than 95 percent. It’s not as good as we’d like to see it. It’s not as good as our customers would like to see it. So we’re looking at ways to improve that reliability over time,” said Boeing (BA.N) Commercial Airplanes Marketing Vice President Randy Tinseth at a press conference in Chile’s capital Santiago.

“I would refer to the problems as teething problems, I don’t think they’re systemic,” he said.

The aircraft has suffered an assortment of electrical and safety issues, the latest of which were over the weekend when budget airline Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA (NWC.OL) grounded a brand new 787 Dreamliner and demanded that Boeing repair it after it suffered repeated breakdowns.

On Sunday, a 787 operated by Poland’s carrier, LOT airline, had to land unexpectedly in Iceland due to a fault with the craft’s identification system.

The problem followed electrical and other safety issues that have afflicted the Dreamliner, including battery meltdowns that prompted regulators to ban the long-haul jetliner from flight for more than three months this year.

Tinseth said the process of improving reliability could be a long one.

New airplanes often have issues when first entering service. The Airbus (EAD.PA) A380 superjumbo had wing cracks that required reworking by the manufacturer, but that crisis faded from the headlines.

“Every plane that we bring to the market clearly or oftentimes has issues as we go through the maturation process. The 787 has been no exception to that,” Tinseth said.

“Clearly we’ve had some challenges on 787 reliability and we’re focussed on making that reliability better.”

Tinseth was in Santiago to discuss the outlook for the Latin American planes market. Boeing estimates that the region will need 2,900 planes worth $300 billion to 2032, principally single aisle jets as the market for flights within the region expands.

Chile is headquarters to LATAM Airlines LAN.SN, the region’s biggest airline and a Boeing customer, formed from the tie-up of Chile’s LAN and Brazil’s TAM last year.

LAN has taken delivery of three 787 Dreamliners out of a total 32 it has on order over the next nine years and currently runs the plane on its Santiago-Los Angeles route.

(Writing by Anthony Esposito and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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Wall Street down as government shutdown draws closer

Mon Sep 30, 2013 12:57pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks fell on Monday as the possibility of a last-minute deal to resolve a budget impasse in Washington appeared remote, pushing the government closer to a partial shutdown.

Losses were broad, with each of the ten major SP 500 sectors lower on the day, led by energy and financials shares.

But the SP 500 index managed to cut its initial losses almost in half. Market participants have grown accustomed to political battles in Washington resulting in a last-minute accord and voiced skepticism any shutdown would last for an extended period.

“People are getting immune to the fact that the government might or might not shut down. It spooked people in the past, but now we’re seeing a mild reaction to a potential shutdown,” said Joseph Benanti, managing director at Rosenblatt Securities in New York.

“We don’t expect it to be long term.”

The House of Representatives early on Sunday voted for an emergency spending bill that includes a one-year delay of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare overhaul despite threats of a veto from the White House.

The Democratic-controlled Senate reconvenes at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) and was poised to reject a funding measure that includes the delay.

A shutdown would have wide-ranging implications for most types of assets. If a deal were reached quickly, markets might recover, but a prolonged shutdown could do significant harm to the economy and consumer confidence. While a deal could still be reached before the government’s fiscal year ends at midnight on Monday, such a possibility was considered unlikely.

Up to 1 million government employees could be furloughed without a deal and, if the shutdown takes place, the Labor Department will postpone issuing its closely-watched monthly employment report scheduled for Friday.

Some market participants viewed any possible pullback in equities as a buying opportunity, based on historical performance after prior shutdowns and the low risk of a steep decline.

In a note to clients, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Savita Subramanian said the risk of a correction of more than 10 percent from the political wrangling is a “low probability event” and “given that valuation, sentiment and fundamentals remain supportive, we would view such an event as a buying opportunity.”

Energy shares .SPNY slumped 0.9 percent, dropping alongside a 1 percent fall in U.S. crude oil prices as the possible government shutdown stoked demand concerns. Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) fell 0.9 percent to $86.13 while Occidental Petroleum (OXY.N) lost 1.5 percent to $93.04. O/R

Defense names also declined, as a government shutdown would most likely diminish the amount of new contracts being granted. Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) fell 1.2 percent to $127.63 and Alliant Techsystems Inc (ATK.N) lost 1 percent to $97.20. The PHLX defense sector .DFX lost 0.8 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 104.52 points or 0.68 percent, to 15,153.72, the SP 500 .SPX lost 8.2 points or 0.48 percent, to 1,683.55 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 7.81 points or 0.21 percent, to 3,773.79.

Reflecting the uncertainty in Washington, the CBOE Volatility index .VIX gained 7.8 percent. The index has risen more than 19 percent in the last three sessions.

The SP managed to find support at its 50-day moving average of 1,679.96, breaking below that level then quickly rebounding. The index is on track for its seventh decline in the last eight sessions, in which it has dropped 2.5 percent.

For September, the Dow .DJI is up 2.2 percent, the SP is up 3 percent and the Nasdaq .IXIC is up 5 percent.

In economic data on Monday, the Chicago Purchasing Managers index rose more than expected in September, climbing to 55.7 from 53 in the previous month. Analysts were expecting a reading of 54. The positive data had little lasting impact on the market’s gloomy tone.

(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Exclusive: Vatican Bank likely to close embassy accounts after Iran, Iraq red flags

Mon Sep 30, 2013 12:36pm EDT

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican bank is likely to close all accounts held by foreign embassies, following concerns about large cash deposits and withdrawals by the missions of Iran, Iraq and Indonesia, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

The Vatican’s financial watchdog, which examined the transactions in 2011, believed the embassies’ justifications for the transactions were too vague or disproportionate to the amounts — up to 500,000 euros at a time — these people said. In one case, a large cash withdrawal was said to be for “refurbishment”, one person added.

Now the bank and the watchdog want to reduce the possibility that the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), as the bank is called, could be an unwitting vehicle for money laundering and other illicit finances.

Four people with knowledge of the matter said the closure of the accounts was likely to be a key recommendation of a broad review that Pope Francis has ordered of the bank, whose scandal-tainted history has long been an embarrassment for the Holy See.

The review is set to be completed by the end of the year.

It is the thorniest part of nascent efforts by the world’s smallest state to open itself up to more outside scrutiny. The process ostensibly began under the former Pope Benedict, but was thwarted by conflicts among Vatican officials and an Italian money-laundering investigation.

The IOR is a private bank – currently with about 7.1 billion euros in assets under management – whose stated goal is to hold and manage funds for religious orders of priests and nuns, Catholic charities, Vatican employees, and other Catholic institutions. But the number of account holders has swelled to 19,000 over the years and diversified beyond the original categories with the right to hold accounts.

Fewer than two dozen of the 180 countries accredited to the Vatican have accounts at the IOR; many Western states such as the United States and Britain do not.

Reuters has learned that the Financial Information Authority (AIF), the Holy See’s financial watchdog, wrote to the IOR in the second half of 2011 expressing its concern over several cash withdrawals and deposits by the embassies of Iran, Iraq and Indonesia, according to the people with knowledge of the situation.

The transactions – which were registered at the Vatican border in line with Vatican and European Union requirements that amounts of more than 10,000 euros in cash or equivalent be declared at customs – caught the eye of the AIF because of their origin, frequency and amounts. Iran, Iraq and Indonesia are classified by international institutions and governance bodies as countries at high risk of financial crimes. The Holy See’s regulators also thought the justifications for the withdrawals, including one that simply said “personnel”, were vague, these people said. It was not clear where the money for the cash deposits came from.

The Iranian and Iraqi embassies to the Vatican said they had no comment on the cash movements or the concerns raised by regulators.

The Indonesian ambassador to the Vatican, Bahar Budiarman, said that his embassy takes out up to 10,000 euros at a time from its IOR account and that the money is destined for personal use and petty cash. For bigger amounts, wire transfers are used, said Budiarman, who has been ambassador since early 2012.

An IOR spokesman stated in emails that the bank does not comment on matters concerning the AIF and that the IOR had no comment on the possible closure of embassy accounts.

The AIF said that “it does not give details about cases it investigates and does not comment on the….review of the bank”.

The review of the IOR has gained momentum under Pope Francis, who became pontiff in March this year. In June, he created a special commission to advise him on how to reform the bank, and has not ruled out closing it altogether.

“If Pope Francis pulls off a restructuring of the IOR and gives it real oversight and transparency, it would go a long way towards convincing people that he’s serious about reform,” said John Thavis, longtime Vatican analyst and author of The Vatican Diaries.


The Vatican moved to improve its financial transparency in 2010. That effort immediately hit a stumbling block when Rome magistrates investigating possible money laundering froze 23 million euros held by the IOR in two Italian banks. The IOR said it had been transferring its own funds between accounts in other countries. IOR officials told Italian magistrates at the time the money would be used to buy German securities, back then a safer bet than Italian securities, according to prosecutor’s documents seen by Reuters. The magistrates later unfroze the funds, though the investigation continues.

Separately, AIF officials noticed in the summer of 2011 that large sums of money were moving several times a month in and out of the bank accounts held by the embassies of Iran, Iraq and Indonesia, according to the people with direct knowledge of the situation.

Withdrawing and depositing cash is not illegal, and embassies may legitimately transfer money in and out of the Vatican provided they offer sufficient details on the origin of the money and purpose of the transaction.

But international financial standards require banks to carry out thorough checks on the origin of large cash transfers and on the effective beneficiaries to rule out the possibility of money laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes. Checks are heightened if the transactions involve countries, such as Iran and Iraq, considered by international regulators to be at high risk for financial crimes, and if high-level diplomats are involved.

Regulators working at the AIF at the time pressed the IOR for details about the transactions. The IOR replied, but referenced only the Iranian transfers and did not provide any further details about them, according to the people with knowledge of the situation. It did not mention the other two countries.

The AIF dropped its inquiries, according to these people. One top Vatican official briefed about the situation says the response was “silly” and that the AIF should have tried to follow up. The AIF management has since changed.

Earlier this year, Ernst Von Freyberg – a German lawyer hired in February to run the IOR – told colleagues that embassy accounts were potentially dangerous, and that he wanted to close them, according to a person with knowledge of the event. But the proposal was blocked by the Vatican’s powerful Secretariat of State, whose officials feared the move might hurt diplomatic relations, this person said.

A report by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering committee, said last year that while the Holy See had taken steps to improve standards, more needed to be done. The committee, which carried out the review at the Vatican’s request, is due to conduct a new assessment later this year.

The bank is also coming clean on possible illicit financial activities. The Vatican has said it detected six possible attempts to use the IOR to launder money last year, and at least seven in the first half of this year. In one case, a prelate who had close ties to the IOR was arrested in June on suspicion of plotting to smuggle 20 million euros in cash into Italy from Switzerland to give to rich friends in southern Italy. The prelate, who will be tried in December, says he was not acting for personal gain.

(Edited by Alessandra Galloni, Simon Robinson and Philippa Fletcher)

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