Be a clown, be a clown,
All the world loves a clown.
Act a fool, play the calf,
And you'll always have the last laugh.
— Below, all the world loves a clown, except on the taxpayers dime.
What's Being Talked About Tonight
SEC PROBES GROUPON/WSJ — Shayndi Raice & Jean Eaglesham: “The Securities and Exchange Commission is examining Groupon's revision of its first set of financial results as a public company, according to a person familiar with the situation. The regulator's probe into the popular online coupon company is at a preliminary stage and the SEC has not yet decided whether to launch a formal investigation into the matter, the person said.”
CFTC ACCUSES ROYAL BANK OF CANADA OF SHAM TRADES/AP: “U.S. regulators are accusing one of Canada's largest banks of engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars in sham futures trades to reap tax benefits on its holdings of company stocks. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Monday sued Royal Bank of Canada , saying the bank also concealed the true nature of the trades and made false statements to a futures trading exchange. The agency said it is the largest case it has brought against so-called wash trades, which cancel each other out.”
COTY’S BID FOR AVON CAME AFTER TALKS DID NOT RESULT IN DEAL/NY Times — Michael J. De Le Merced: "In announcing its $10 billion unsolicited bid for Avon Products , Coty acknowledged that it had sent three letters to the cosmetics giant last month seeking to begin talks about a deal. What was left unsaid was that the two had already held talks — with Avon potentially buying Coty instead. The two companies began discussing a deal in late 2011, after Coty had reached out, according to Bart Becht, the company’s chairman. At the time, the idea was that Avon."
HEARD ON THE STREET: COTY WOOS THE AVON LADY/WSJ — Justin Lahart: “It is looking prettier for Avon Products. While the cosmetics firm is right to fight Monday's bid from Coty — at least at the $10 billion level offered by the closely held perfume peddler — long-suffering investors finally have an admirer to underpin the shares. Avon was quick to point out that Coty's $23.25-a-share unsolicited bid, while 20 percent higher than Friday's close, looks awfully cheap relative to history. It values the company at 1.1 times last year's sales and 8.7 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Coty would be getting Avon for the multiple it carried in early 2009, when financial markets were in disarray. Of course, Avon itself is in disarray now.”
BEEF PROCESSOR FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY AMID "PINK SLIME" UPROAR/Reuters: “Ground beef processor AFA Foods filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, citing the impact of the uproar over a meat filler dubbed "pink slime" by critics. Meat processors have faced a backlash over the use of an ammonia-treated beef filler they call "finely textured beef." Food activists have campaigned to have it banned, but supporters say the product is safe to eat. AFA is one of the largest ground beef processors in the United States and produces more than 500 million pounds of ground beef products annually, the company said in documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware.”
GSA HEAD RESIGNS ON REPORTS OF LAVISH SPENDING/Washington Post — Lisa Rein & Joe Davidson: “The chief of the General Services Administration is resigning and two of her top deputies have been fired amid reports of excessive spending at a training conference at a luxury hotel that featured a mindreader, a clown and a comedian. GSA Administrator Martha Johnson submitted her resignation to the White House on Monday. Public Buildings Service chief Robert A. Peck and Johnson’s top adviser, Stephen Leeds, were forced out Monday, White House officials said. ... Organizers spent $835,000 on the event, which was attended by 300 employees. The expenses included $147,000 in airfare and lodging at the hotel for six planning trips by a team of organizers. Among the other expenses were $3,200 for a mind reader; $6,300 on commemorative coin set displayed in velvet boxes and $75,000 on a training exercise to build a bicycle.”
CARRYING THAT BAG ON THE PLANE? ALLEGIANT AIR TO START CHARGING FOR USING OVERHEAD BINS/AP: “Allegiant Air will charge passengers $35 to carry their own bag on board the plane and stow it in an overhead bin.”
CHAMPIONSHIP ON THE CHEAP. NCAA TICKET PRICES COULD HIT ALL-TIME LOWS/CBSsports — Jeff Borzello: "According to StubHub, the ticket prices for the title game are the lowest in their 12-year history. Tickets are as low as $29 right now, and could go to $20 before the game begins. For comparison, the lowest-priced tickets for last year's championship game between Butler and Connecticut went for as low as $69."
SAFE CONTAINING $10 MILLION STOLEN FROM LA HOME/AP: "Los Angeles police say burglars who broke into a Hancock Park home stole a safe believed to contain $10 million in cash, jewelry and other items. Police say the burglars took the safe from a walk-in closet, and used a rug to move it down some stairs and out the front door. Police officers responding to a security alarm discovered the burglary."
AMC SUNDAY DRAMAS SUFFER RATINGS FALLOFF/NY Times — Bill Carter: "AMC is trying back-to-back dramas on Sunday night and so far the results are a bit underwhelming. The second-season premiere of the murder mystery drama “The Killing,” attracted 1.8 million viewers for its two-hour episode Sunday night. That was down from a 2.2 million average for the show last season and 2.7 million for its premiere episode last season."
Coming & Goings
Avon Products: Board of Directors elects Douglas R. Conant to the Board, effective immediately. Mr. Conant, age 60, is the retired President and Chief Executive Officer of the Campbell Soup Company , where he served from 2001 - 2011. Paul S. Pressler, Partner at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, Inc., indicated his intention not to stand for re-election to Avon's Board of Directors after seven years of service and will be leaving the Board effective April 2, 2012.
Goldman Sachs: Names James J. Schiro as new lead director and head of the corporate governance and nominating committee. Schiro is a former CEO at Zurich Financial Services and at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has been on the Goldman board since 2009. He replaces, John H. Bryan, who is stepping down from the board. Lois D. Juliber, a board member since 2004 and a former executive at Colgate-Palmolive , is also retiring from the board.
OPINION: GOLDMAN FOLLOWS BOARD STITCH-UP WITH SMACKDOWN/Reuters — Antony Currie: “Goldman Sachs seems determined to ride roughshod over its shareholders. It’s true the bank’s stock is close to nudging back above book value — a sign that owners are getting more comfortable with the balance sheet and earnings power. But with its new appointment to lead director, Goldman’s management and board are showing a startling disregard for decent corporate governance. Just last week the firm persuaded the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to withdraw a proposed shareholder vote next month to separate the roles of chairman and chief executive. But the bank did so simply by changing the title of its top board member from presiding director to lead director, maybe throwing in a few extra duties for good measure. That stitch-up is now being followed by a smackdown. Goldman is giving the job to the wrong guy. This was the ideal chance to appoint someone unquestionably independent with a reputation for asking tough questions. James Schiro doesn’t fit the bill.”
Tomorrow's Economic Data
10:00am ET: March Light vehicle sales
2:00pm ET: FOMC minutes
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