Still no clarity on funds gone from MF Global

December 18, 2011

Former U.S. senator Jon S. Corzine, who presided over the collapse of commodities brokerage MF Global, returned to Capitol Hill and rebutted an allegation that he knew about loans the firm made using client money. ¶ For the third time in a week, the New Jersey Democrat and former governor testified before lawmakers who want to know how an estimated $1.2 billion ended up missing. As in prior appearances, Corzine said he did not know. ¶ At a Senate hearing, Terrence A. Duffy, executive chairman of the commodities exchange operator CME Group, said a CME auditor participated in a phone call with senior MF Global employees in which one ‘indicated that Mr. Corzine knew’ about loans from customer accounts.” ¶ Corzine countered: “While the last few days of MF Global were chaotic, I did not instruct anyone to lend customer funds to MF Global for any of its affiliates, nor was I told that anyone had done so.”

Business

Six former executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were charged with securities fraud by the SEC, which said they misled the public about the companies’ exposure to subprime loans during the onset of the mortgage meltdown. The executives named in the civil suits include Daniel H. Mudd, former chairman and chief executive of Fannie Mae, and Richard F. Syron, who held the same positions at Freddie Mac.

The federal governments first auction of offshore petroleum leases in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill drew $337.7 million in winning bids. ConocoPhillips submitted the largest bid, agreeing to pay $103.2 million for a deep-water tract.

Zynga, the largest maker of games for Facebook, declined in its first day of trading after raising $1 billion in an IPO that gave it a greater valuation than rival Electronic Arts. The IPO valued Zynga at as much as $7 billion.

Lee Enterprises, owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and 47 other daily U.S. newspapers, filed for bankruptcy protection. Lee listed both assets and liabilities of more than $1 billion.

Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater, changed its name for a second time in less than three years. The security firm is now called Academi. Chief executive Ted Wright said the name reflected changes the company has undergone since investors bought it in 2010 from founder Erik Prince.

Stiefel Laboratories and its former chairman were sued by U.S. regulators for buying back stock from employees without disclosing key information, including its acquisition talks with GlaxoSmithKline. The SEC said shareholders were defrauded out of more than $110 million.

Morgan Stanley and insurance company MBIA reached a settlement over disputes involving mortgage-backed investments. MBIA will pay $1.1 billion, and Morgan Stanley will withdraw its claims.

Facebook launched a tool that allows users to confidentially chat online with a suicide prevention counselor.

China will impose anti-dumping duties on some vehicles imported from the United States after failing to block a U.S. tariff on Chinese tires. Punitive duties will be as high as 12.9 percent for automobiles from General Motors and 8.8 percent for Chrysler Group.

Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco have agreed to pay $6.25 million to support the country’s largest online collection of internal tobacco industry documents, the Justice Department said.

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion said that delivery of new phones deemed critical to the company’s future will be delayed until late 2012; it also said BlackBerry sales are expected to fall sharply this quarter.

Amazon said customers have bought about 1 million of its Kindle e-book readers and tablets in each of the past three weeks; the most detailed sales numbers the company has released.

Jailed Texas financier R. Allen Stanford faces a mental competency hearing Tuesday in which a federal judge will decide whether he is fit to stand trial on charges that he bilked investors out of $7 billion in a Ponzi scheme.

Deals

Coca-Cola will buy roughly half of Saudi Arabia’s Aujan Industries for $980 million, pairing the soda giant with one of the Mideast’s top independent beverage companies.

MidAmerican will buy a 49 percent share of a $1.8 billion solar-power plant owned by NRG Energy that U.S. solar-panel maker First Solar is building in the Arizona desert. First Solar reduced profit estimates for this year and next and said it will cut about 100 jobs as it shifts its focus to large utility plants.

Martin Marietta launched a hostile takeover bid for the larger gravel, sand and stone supplier Vulcan Materials with an offer of about $4.74 billion in stock .

The three-page contract that established Apple Computer on April 1, 1976, sold for $1.59 million at Sotheby’s.

Earnings

FedEx nearly doubled its second-quarter net income to $497 million, the company said, as strong online sales boosted deliveries to homes.

Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, reduced its fourth-quarter revenue forecast by about $1 billion, citing a shortage of hard-disk drives for personal computers. It now expects revenue to be $13.7 billion, plus or minus $300 million.

Economy

U.S. manufacturing output fell in November for the first time in seven months, the Fed reported. Factories made fewer autos.

National Retail Federation said it expects holiday sales for the November and December period to rise 3.8 percent, to a record $469.1 billion.

The euro dropped to below $1.30 last week for the first time since January. Its loss was Britain’s gain, as the pound rose against its neighbors’ currency. Britain declined to join the rest of the European Union in a pact to revise the group’s treaty regarding debt rules.

N early half of Americans, or 146.4 million, have fallen under the poverty line or are classified as “low income” because they make less than $45,000 for a family of four, the Census Bureau said. That’s up by 4 million from 2009 numbers.

Washington

Democrats and Republicans agreed to compromise on a $1 trillion spending bill, averting the third potential shutdown this year of the U.S. government. The Senate reached a tentative deal Friday to extend a payroll tax cut by two months.

Treasury Department will suspend the mass production of commemorative $1 coins with the faces of deceased U.S. presidents. It said the move would save $50 million annually.

National Transportation Safety Board recommended a ban on the use of personal electronic devices while driving. A deadly pileup in Grey Summit, Mo., last year began with a pickup driver who sent 11 texts in the 11 minutes.

Three former Washington Mutual executives will together pay $400,000 out of pocket as part of a $64 million settlement with the FDIC. over the nation’s largest bank failure. The FDIC earlier sought $900 million from chief executive Kerry Killinger, chief operating officer Stephen Rotella and top lending officer David Schneider.

Transitions

Janet Robinson, the chief executive of the New York Times Co. who helped the paper broaden its reach nationally and make more money online, will step down at the end of the year.

Andrea Jung, 53, who has run Avon since 1999, will step down next year as CEO. Shares in Avon Products surged 5 percent on the news.

Scientists said they have narrowed their search for Higgs boson, the so-called God particle believed to be the basic building block of the universe.

Time named the Protester as its “Person of the Year” for 2011. The magazine mentions uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Britain, Spain, Greece—and the U.S.’s Occupy movement.

Christopher Hitchens, sharp-witted contrarian and tireless master of the persuasive essay, died at 62.

— Compiled from The Post and news services

$116
million
Amount paid for collection of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels

Pieces included a necklace featuring “La Peregrina,” a 16th-century pearl once painted by Velazquez. It sold for $11.8 million. Richard Burton paid $37,000 for it in 1969. The sale at a Christie’s auction fetched more than double the record for a jewelry collection.

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