Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010 | 2:17 PM ET

Come See The Havoc Caused by Calling Sovereign Debt "Risk Free"

Posted By: Ash Bennington

It's time to bid au revoir to another idealistic European fiction .

Banks in euro zone countries have not been required to hold back any capital as a hedge against bonds issued by the governments of euro zone nations.

But reality has intervened. First Greece, then Ireland, received massive bailout packages. The danger of imminent sovereign default was real. The notion that such instruments could be treated as "risk-free" proved to be a fantasy.

"Risk Free" may have been a lovely idea. Like a world without war. Or the dissolution of national borders, as a grand utopian marketplace sprung forth from the soil that had hosted some the 20th Century's worst nightmares.

It didn't work out that way. A unified monetary policy simply did not accord with the radically different fiscal policies of the EU's member states. Historically divergent worldviews, rooted in cultural traditions of long-standing, could not be reconciled with academic theories of postmodern multiculturalism.

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  Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010 | 12:27 PM ET

Pershing Square’s Amazing Returns Cause an Internet Dust-Up

Posted By: John Carney

In a month that was supposed to be one of the toughest for hedge funds, Pershing Square Capital Management reportedly saw a 12.2 percent net gain—and a 15 percent gain before fees.


This capped off a stellar year for the hedge fund, which is run by Bill Ackman. It is reportedly up 35.5 percent before fees for the year. The returns were first reported by Bess Levin of DealBreaker, a site that frequently posts hedge fund returns.

(Full disclosure: I was the editor-in-chief of DealBreaker from early 2006 until 2008, when I handed over the reins to Levin, who had been my colleague there since mid-2006 and remains a personal friend.)

In the post-Madoff era, those kind of returns will—and should—prompt skepticism. How could Ackman produce those kind of gains?

This question sent a website called Insider Monkey digging into the SEC filings. What it found is an example of the value and dangers of investigating the returns of hedge funds.

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  Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010 | 12:11 PM ET

The War Against WikiLeaks Is Worse Than WikiLeaks

Posted By: John Carney

This morning Julian Assange turned himself into authorities in London after a warrant for his arrest was issued. A judge reportedly refused to grant him bail—which means he will remain in custody until his trial.

Julian Assange
Getty Images
Julian Assange

WikiLeaks has indicated that it will continue to operate as usual, despite the arrest of its founder.

What’s far more troubling than the arrest of Assange—which arises from very weird allegations that seems to involve sexual encounters with two women—is what appears to be a covert war against WikiLeaks.

In the course of a very short timespan, WikiLeaks lost access to Amazon, Paypal, Visa and Mastercard. Its account with a Swedish bank was frozen. In short, its access to financial transactions—including donations from outside supporters—that it uses to finance its operations is being shut down.

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  Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010 | 11:23 AM ET

Is The WikiLeaks "Megaleak" About Merrill Lynch?

Posted By: John Carney

If the next WikiLeaks target is Bank of America , the information could come from a hard-drive of a top Merrill Lynch executive.

»Read more
  Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010 | 10:34 AM ET

Is There A Connection Between WikiLeaks And Bank of America’s Put-Back Apocalypse Nightmare?

Posted By: John Carney

Could the huge cache of documents WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he has obtained from a hard drive at one of America’s biggest banks reveal fraudulent lending at Countrywide Financial?

Julian Assange
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images
Julian Assange

A year ago, Assange mentioned that he had five gigs of documents on Bank of America. So when he revealed that one of the next “megaleaks” from his organization would be about a big American bank, pretty much everyone concluded that he was talking about Bank of America.

Bank of America issued an poorly thought out non-denial, protesting that it had no proof of Assange’s claim to have a hard drive and that Assange hadn’t named the bank in his latest statement.

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  Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010 | 9:58 AM ET

Sadove: Starting to See Some of The Higher-End Price Points Coming Back

Posted By: Lori Ann LaRocco

The holiday shopping season seems to be ringing in stronger this year. Although not the at pre-recession levels, consumers are opening their wallets a little bit more and November retail sales showed that strength.

Now the question is—will the consumer carry that momentum throughout the whole holiday shopping season? To get further color on luxury side of the industry I spoke with Steve Sadove, Chairman and CEO of Saks .

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  Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010 | 9:40 AM ET

The Tax Deal May be The Perfect Republican Trap for Obama

Posted By: John Carney

(Note: We're running a bit late this morning. No excuses really. Our apologies.)

»Read more
  Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010 | 9:14 AM ET

Insider Trading Explained

Posted By: John Carney

Ira Stoll of The Future of Capitalism has put together a nice little video explaining the government's latest crackdown on alleged insider trading.

»Read more
  Monday, 6 Dec 2010 | 4:56 PM ET

Google Throws Down the Gauntlet to Amazon—And Apple Too?

Posted By: Ash Bennington

Eurozone Bond Chatter Continues (Financial Times) "Proposals for common eurozone bonds have been around for as long as the euro itself. For years they made no progress. Germany understood that it would incur higher interest rates as a result of sharing bonds with Greece and other fiscal delinquents. In the end, German taxpayers would pick up the bill—an unacceptable proposition, whatever the notional attractions of European solidarity. These arguments were just as compelling in countries such as Austria, Finland and France whose bonds enjoyed top-quality status."

"Germany Reluctant to Expand Bailout Fund" (New York Times) What are the odds of the Germans going along with a pan-European bond issuance—if they're not even willing to kick more cash into the bailout kitty? (Think about it: If you aren't willing to lend your deadbeat brother-in-law the money to buy a new car, what are the odds of you cosigning on his auto loan? I'm going with very close to zero.)

"As ministers from the 16 euro-zone countries met in Brussels, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany dampened speculation that the bailout fund, worth $997 billion and now being used by Ireland, could be increased soon. 'I see no need to expand the fund right now,' Mrs. Merkel said in Berlin after talks with Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland, Bloomberg News reported."

"Gold Prices Rise on Bernanke Easing Talk" \(TheStreet.com\) Gold prices are up again. And it's the usual suspects driving them higher: "Fueling inflation sentiment, this announcement, coupled with ongoing uncertainty about the euro-zone's ability to contain its debt crisis, helped gold futures finish in positive territory." It's enough to make you wonder: Does a Fed chairman on 60 Minutes do more harm than good—no matter what he says—merely by reminding people that he may be called upon to lead the monetary component of an economic crisis intervention?

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  Monday, 6 Dec 2010 | 3:01 PM ET

Elaine Kaufman Remembered

Posted By: Ash Bennington

Elaine Kaufman, owner of Elaine's restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side, died last Friday afternoon at age eighty-one.

Elaine Kaufman
Getty Images
Elaine Kaufman

Elaine's death is the subject of a CNBC story because many of Wall Street's elite dine at her restaurant, and because it is a hub of New York City culture, and because she was my friend.

Charlie Gasparino, then a reporter for this network, introduced me to Elaine Kaufman. I met my current editor, John Carney, while standing at the bar. I also met many of my sources, often by pure chance, because finance guys always seem to be hanging around. For instance: One night I watched a famous financier itemize his dinner check—and though he was ranked in the top half of the Forbes 400, he split the bill with his dining companion, accounting for the cost of the appetizers.

On another jam-packed night, I ate dinner six inches away from a wildly bejeweled Ivana Trump. I once shared a table there with the editor-in-chief of the New York Post: He and I watched as John Travolta danced through the aisles in the dining room, with Travolta's beautiful wife beaming up at him from their table. The editor of The Post—who's seen a few things in his time—turned to me and said: "This is really something, isn't it?"

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