Jury Told, Madoff Planned Everything, Cried Before Arrest

According to Bloomberg,

Bernard Madoff planned every detail of his firm’s demise in the days before he was arrested five years ago today to avoid being marched past his 200 employees in handcuffs, the con man’s former finance chief told a jury.

Madoff, in papers spread across his desk, wrote a series of names and dates in a schedule of events leading up to the exact day his $17 billion Ponzi scheme would finally come to light, Frank DiPascali, the former executive, testified yesterday in Manhattan federal court in the trial of five ex-colleagues.

DiPascali, who joined Madoff’s company as a researcher in 1975, when he was 19 years old, said he learned of the plan during a private meeting in his office on Dec. 3, 2008, about a week before his arrest, after Madoff had been “staring out the window all day.”

“He turned to me and said, crying, ‘I’m at the end of my rope,’” DiPascali told a jury. When DiPascali expressed confusion, Madoff shouted, “I don’t have any more goddamned money — don’t you get it? The whole goddamn thing is a fraud!”

DiPascali is the highest-ranking former Madoff executive to testify in the first criminal trial stemming from the scheme, which was exposed after Madoff’s arrest by federal authorities at his Manhattan apartment on Dec. 11, 2008. Five of his former employees are on trial in federal court in Manhattan, accused of aiding his fraud for decades and getting rich in the process.

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GM Exodus Puts Australian Car Industry Step Closer to Extinction

According to Bloomberg,

Australia’s century-old automotive industry is stepping closer to extinction after General Motors Co. (GM) joined Ford Motor Co. (F) in deciding to stop making cars in the country.

Seven months after Ford announced it would pull out, GM said yesterday its Holden unit will cease production in 2017. That prompted the last holdout, Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), to say the  move will place “unprecedented pressure” on parts makers and  questioned the merits of remaining in the country. A stronger local currency and falling import tariffs have  driven down  sales of Australian-made cars by almost half since 2007.

The hollowing out of the nation’s auto industry has implications beyond the three companies as carmakers have about 150 suppliers that employ an estimated 42,000 people. The departure of Australia’s biggest carmaker also adds pressure on Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who’s facing rising unemployment and deteriorating consumer sentiment three months after winning an election by pledging to restore confidence in the economy.

“The Australian dollar has claimed an iconic brand of cars,” said Martin Whetton, an interest-rate strategist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Sydney. “The announcement will be a major blow to confidence in the run-up to Christmas, as job losses will exacerbate an already heightened sense of insecurity.”

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World Led by U.S. Poised for Fastest Growth Since 2010

According to Bloomberg,

The world economy is primed for its fastest expansion in four years, with the U.S. propelling the improvement in output.

Global growth will accelerate at least 3.4 percent in 2014 from less than 3 percent this year as the euro area recovers from recession and China and other emerging markets stabilize, according to economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Deutsche Bank AG and Morgan Stanley. The U.K. will be a standout, while Japan risks damping the mood by suffering a mid-year slowdown after an April increase in sales taxes.

“So far it’s been a very bumpy, below-par and brittle expansion,” said Joachim Fels, co-chief global economist at Morgan Stanley in London. “Next year could bring a very important transition: a transition to a sounder, safer and more sustainable recovery.”

The upturn should prove bullish for equities and bearish for bonds. If it boosts corporate confidence in the durability of growth, it could further fuel demand, raising the odds that 2014 will break the pattern of recent years and come in better, rather than worse, than projected.

“An improving global-growth picture is widely forecast but, in our view, also still doubted in the investor community,” said Dominic Wilson, chief markets economist at Goldman Sachs in New York. “We therefore see room for markets to price in a better cyclical story.”

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Budget Deal to Ease Spending Cuts Gets Republican Backing

According to Bloomberg,

Congressional negotiators selling a budget accord won Republican endorsements for the plan to ease automatic U.S. spending cuts for two years, remove the risk of a government shutdown and cut the deficit by $23 billion.

“I believe it’ll get a majority of the majority” of House Republicans and a large number of Democratic votes, Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said today after a Capitol Hill briefing. The House may vote as early as tomorrow on the plan.

Chief architects Senator Patty Murray and Representative Paul Ryan in announcing the deal said that while imperfect, the plan would provide economic certainty by establishing a bipartisan budget for the first time in four years.

“It is an important step in helping heal some of the wounds here in Congress,” Murray, a Washington Democrat, said yesterday at a Capitol Hill news conference.

The limited agreement seeks to end three years of political gridlock in Congress over spending and revenue that culminated in a 16-day government shutdown in October. Lawmakers’ approval ratings in opinion polls have tumbled amid the regular partisan standoffs over the budget.

Groups that back limited government and the automatic spending cuts criticized the accord as a retreat from policies enacted in a budget deal two years ago. Club for Growth, which has intervened in Republican primaries to back candidates who support less government spending, said it would rate lawmakers seeking election in 2014 based on their budget vote.

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Volcker Rule Ushers in Era of Increased Oversight of Trades

According to Bloomberg,

Wall Street faces more intensive government scrutiny of trading after U.S. regulators issued what they billed as a strict Volcker rule today, imposing new curbs designed to prevent financial blowups while leaving many details to be worked out later.

The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and three other agencies formally adopted the proprietary trading ban. The rule has been contested by JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and their industry allies for more than three years.

Wall Street’s lobbying efforts paid off in easing some provisions of the rule. Regulators granted a broader exemption for banks’ market-making desks, on the condition that traders aren’t paid in a way that rewards proprietary trading. The regulation also exempts some securities tied to foreign sovereign debt.

At the same time, regulators said the final version imposed stricter restrictions on hedging, providing banks less leeway for classifying bets as broad hedges for other risks. To pursue a hedge, banks would need to provide detailed and updated information for review by on-site bank supervisors.

Limiting Risks

 

“This provision of the Dodd-Frank Act has the important objective of limiting excessive risk-taking by depository institutions and their affiliates,” Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in a statement. “The ultimate effectiveness of the rule will depend importantly on supervisors, who will need to find the appropriate balance while providing feedback to the board on how the rule works in practice.”

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U.S. Stocks Drop as Budget Deal Spurs Bets on Fed Cuts

According to Bloomberg,

U.S. stocks fell a second day, after an all-time high for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, as a Congressional budget accord fueled speculation that the Federal Reserve could trim stimulus next week.

Cisco Systems Inc. dropped 2.2 percent after losing a European Union court bid to overturn approval of Microsoft Corp.’s 2011 takeover of Skype Technologies SA. Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings plunged 10 percent after issuing a profit forecast below analysts’s estimates. MasterCard Inc. (MA) climbed 3.8 percent after saying its board of directors approved an 83 percent dividend increase and a 10-for-1 stock split.

The S&P 500 fell 0.7 percent to 1,790.90 at 11:58 a.m. in New York. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 75.48 points, or 0.5 percent, to 15,897.65. Trading in S&P 500 stocks was in line with the 30-day average at this time of day.

“We’ve moved much closer for the Fed to taper in December,” Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial LLC in Boston, said in a telephone interview. “Markets are increasing their views that we are a week or so away from tapering because of improving economic data and clearing the hurdle for a budget deal. This deal is great, it’s a positive, but also a negative because it could prompt the Fed to taper sooner.”

The S&P 500 (SPX) fell 0.3 percent yesterday after reaching a record 1,808.37 the day before. Fed stimulus has helped propel the benchmark gauge higher by as much as 167 percent from its bear-market low in 2009. The index has rallied 26 percent this year and is challenging 2003 for the biggest annual jump since 1998.

Budget Deal

Investors are considering when the central bank, which meets next week, may reduce the pace of its monthly bond buying. Fed officials cited the drag from fiscal policy in their Oct. 30 statement and Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Richmond Fed, said in a speech Dec. 9 that budget uncertainty is weighing on business investment decisions.

Congressional negotiators yesterday agreed to a budget deal that would ease automatic spending cuts by about $60 billion over two years and will reduce the deficit by $20 billion to $23 billion. The budget compromise, which needs to pass both chambers of Congress, doesn’t raise the U.S. debt limit, setting up another potential fiscal showdown after February.

“The budget deal itself is at best a signal that we won’t shut the government down at the start of the new year,” Alexander Friedman, chief investment officer at UBS AG’s wealth-management unit, told Anna Edwards on Bloomberg Television. “It’s a low base that we’re declaring victory from. The key message for 2014 is the real economy is getting better. For investors however, it’s probably not going to be the same sugar high we’ve seen for the last five years.”

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Warren Hits Banks, Expands Base to Solidify Senate Power

According to Bloomberg,

Elizabeth Warren, in her first year as a U.S. senator, has captured headlines by pressuring such industry titans as Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein for transparency, including a Dec. 4 call for Wall Street banks to disclose their contributions to policy groups that provide financial analysis to Congress.

With less fanfare, she’s forging alliances with Republican Senate colleagues, expanding her political network in Massachusetts, and tapping her backers to help Democrats running for re-election in other states.

It’s a strategy that sounds a lot like one adopted by another woman who entered the chamber with a national profile that made her a lightning-rod for praise and derision as she was dogged by questions about her presidential aspirations.

“I think she’s followed a path not unlike that of Hillary Clinton, which is learn how to be a senator,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

“Clearly, she has decided not to be a liberal Ted Cruz, to learn the ropes, particularly in the area that she cares most about, which is financial services,” Baker said, contrasting Warren with the Texas Republican freshman senator whose push to defund the 2010 health-care law helped lead to the partial government shutdown in October.

Future Contests

Warren, 64, is building relationships that could be helpful in future races, nationally or statewide. While she has said she won’t run for president in 2016 and signed a letter encouraging Clinton to do so, she’s also seizing on speculation about her future to advance her causes.

Asked by reporters on Dec. 4 if the presidential speculation hurts or helps her consumer-oriented legislative proposals, she said: “I’m glad to see any possible energy put behind those fights.”

Related: Elizabeth Warren Versus the Think Tanks

After rising to prominence as a critic of the housing and financial industries during the 2008 financial collapse, Warren became the architect for the Obama administration of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by the 2010 Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. After she failed to secure the top job at the bureau, Warren won her Senate seat by challenging Republican incumbent Scott Brown in 2012.

At her first appearance as a member of the Senate banking committee in February, she asserted that Wall Street firms had become “too big for trial” and, at a March hearing, she criticized regulators because no one went to jail after HSBC Holding Plc operations in the U.S. admitted to enabling Mexican and Caribbean drug cartels to launder billions of dollars.

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