The Abacus sign


Ben Furnas only has 325 followers on Twitter, but that’s all it took to make this photo of his go seriously viral over the past few days. He posted it on Twitter at 5:42pm on Saturday, with no commentary other than the hashtags #ows and #win. It didn’t take long (I’m a little bit unclear about the timezone of BoingBoing timestamps) before Xeni Jardin posted it on her hugely popular blog. And from there it went, well, everywhere. By this morning, Conor Friedersdorf, the author of the words in question, was already writing a meta-post about the photo, and how it demonstrates that OWS is “the product of the decentralized networked-era culture”. Xeni, too, had a meta-post of her own. And the makers of the sign were revealed to be Brooklynites Will Spitz and Caitlin Curran. (Sorry, they’re a couple.) Still, the meme was far from out of juice: when I posted the photo on my Tumblr at 4pm this afternoon, grabbing it from Barry Ritholtz, it very quickly became by far the most liked and shared thing I’ve ever put up on that platform. A lot of that is because Curran is one of those protestors that photographers dream of. And then there’s the setting — Times Square, with Starbucks in the background and the big Nasdaq sign. But the heart of the photo is the language on the sign — language much more powerful and striking than the blog post (or even the sentence) from which it was lifted. It’s funny, on the sign — something true, and accurate, and touching, and grammatical, and far too long to be a slogan, and gloriously bereft of punctuation, and ending even more gloriously in a mildly archaic preposition. Friedersdorf has managed to encapsulate the essence and the impropriety of the Abacus deal in just 45 words, and it’s fantastic that Spitz and Curran — and Furnas and Jardin and everybody who shared this image — managed to give those words the global recognition they deserved. And most wonderfully of all, this sign seems to resonate just as much with the general public, most of whom have never heard of Abacus, as it does with Abacus nerds like myself. In any case, I’m very glad that Abacus is coming back. During the first Abacus-go-round, I toyed with the idea of making a self-indulgent derivative artwork of the famous quote by “Fab” Fabrice Tourre: What if we created a “thing”, which has no purpose, which is absolutely conceptual and highly theoretical and which nobody knows how to price? I’d print these words in a sans-serif face on aluminum, or maybe in neon, and use them to comment not only on the futility of Wall Street, but also on the parallels between Wall Street and the art world. (William Powhida is much better at this sort of thing than I am; his show, called Derivatives, which includes my birthday present, opens Saturday at Postmasters, and you should go check it out. ) This picture is a vastly better way of bringing Abacus to the public’s attention. And it’s also a fantastic example of why it’s great that OWS isn’t a carefully-organized movement with an easily-identifiable and discrete set of demands. The fact that OWS is open-ended means that it’s much more open to the kind of creativity which went into this sign, and also means that snapshots like this one are much more likely to go viral. The sentiment behind OWS has resonated worldwide — and I’m sure that this photo has already been forwarded all over Goldman Sachs. It’s a very healthy reminder, for squids both junior and senior, that the world will not soon forget what they got up to at the end of the subprime boom.

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New twist in Hungary’s Swiss debt saga. Banks beware.


A fresh twist in Hungary’s Swiss franc debt saga. The ruling party, Fidesz, is proposing to offer mortgage holders the opportunity to repay their franc-denominated loans in one fell swoop at an exchange rate to be  fixed well below the market rate.  This is a deviation from the existing plan, agreed in June, which allows households to repay mortgage installments at a fixed rate of 180 forints per Swiss franc (well below the current 230 rate). Households would repay the difference, with interest, after 2015. If this step is implemented and many loan holders take up the offer, it would be terrible news for Hungary’s banks. The biggest local lender OTP could face a loss of $2 billion forints, analysts at Budapest-based brokerage Equilor calculate.  Not surprisingly, OTP shares plunged 10 percent on Friday after the news, forcing regulators to suspend trade in the stock. Shares in another bank FHB are down 8 percent. But Fidesz’ message is unequivocal.  ”The financial consequences should be borne by the banks,”  Janos Lazar, the Fidesz official behind the plan says. The government is to debate the proposal on Sunday. OTP and its peers could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved. They are already saddled with the highest financial sector taxes in Europe and will almost certainly see a rise in bad loans as the economy stagnates and more Hungarians lose their jobs. They are also picking up the cost of the three-year exchange rate cap for mortgage holders.   The proposed plan may also  have implications for the forint — ING Bank chief EMEA economist Simon Quijano-Evans notes that if 200,000 to 300,00 people to take up the new offer — as the government apparently expects –  the forint will weaken as these people buy Swiss francs to repay their debts.  Based on average loan size, over 2 billion euros worth of forints could be sold, he estimates. Banks’ main hope now must be the central bank. The latter has responded to today’s proposal with a warning that solutions to the debt crisis must not threaten the financial system’s stability.  But the Fidesz government’s capacity to spring nasty surprises on the banking sector will make investors even more defensive about Hungary. Quijano-Evans for one advises staying away from Hungarian equities and unhedged forint positions, noting  that “the risk of the government going ahead with some sort of plan to the detriment of banks has increased strongly.”

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U.S. delays China currency manipulator report


The delay “will give us a chance to assess progress following several international meetings,” the Treasury Department said in a statement. Ministers and leaders of the Group of Twenty major global economies and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are scheduled to meet in October and November.Many U.S. lawmakers and economists contend that China undervalues the yuan by as much as 15 to 40 percent to give its companies a price advantage in global markets. Beijing denies this contention, and has pressed the White House to block the currency bill, which it says breaks World Trade Organization rules.The Obama administration says it shares the goal of the Senate legislation, which has been held up in the House of Representatives in the face of Republican opposition. But it has raised concern that some provisions could violate WTO rules.

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Argentina was advised of possible Iran attacks-source


By Guido NejamkisMAR DEL PLATA, Argentina, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Saudi officials advised Argentina four months ago of an alleged Iran-backed plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington and possibly attack the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, an Argentine diplomatic source said on Thursday.Argentina is home to Latin America’s largest Jewish population and a 1992 bombing at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29 people. Another 85 people died two years later in an attack on the AMIA Jewish community center, which Argentina has accused Iran of helping to plan.”The Saudis advised us four months ago, at the request of the United States,” the Argentine source told Reuters on condition of anonymity, without providing further details.U.S. authorities announced on Tuesday that they had thwarted an alleged plot backed by Iran to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the United States. Iran called it a fabrication designed to create tensions with its neighbors.Washington slapped economic sanctions on five Iranians, including four senior members of the Quds Force, the covert arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, for planning possible attacks in the United States and “another country.”The U.S. ambassador to Argentina, Vilma Martinez, declined to comment on the case when queried by Reuters on Thursday at a business seminar in the coastal city of Mar del Plata.The Argentine government has made no official statement either, despite U.S. media reports this week that the South American country was the other nation targeted.President Barack Obama was briefed in June about the alleged plot, soon after U.S. law enforcement agents were tipped off by a paid informant, according to court documents.Argentina has secured international arrest warrants against former and current Iranian officials it suspects were involved in the attack that leveled the AMIA building in 1994, which Israel has long pinned on Hezbollah guerrillas backed by Iran.Last month, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez publicly urged Iran to make good on its offer to help investigate the bombing, even though Tehran insists it played no role in the terrorist attack.

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UPDATE 1-Raiffeisen CEO sees significantly worse H2-paper


* Shares fall 1.2 pct (Adds detail)VIENNA, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Raiffeisen Bank International’s second-half results will be significantly worse than the first half, its chief executive told an Austrian newspaper.Herbert Stepic said however that emerging Europe’s third-largest lender did not need a major autumn “clean up” like at peer Erste Bank , which is taking large hits on foreign-currency loans in Hungary and euro zone sovereign debt.”This is not necessary for us. You could say that we are permanently cleaning up — we don’t do this at any special time of the year,” Stepic told daily Wirtschaftsblatt in comments published on Thursday.Stepic said he was expecting the latest forecasts for Raiffeisen’s full-year results from analysts in October and November and that estimates of annual profit near 940 million euros ($1.3 billion) were no longer up to date.”I think that the second half of the year will be significantly worse than the first half,” he said. “On the whole, eastern Europe is going well, in reality there is just one problem — Hungary.”Asked whether the third and fourth quarters would yield a profit, Stepic declined to comment. “All I can say is that I reckon we will have a full-year profit,” he said, reiterating comments earlier in the week.The market had expected RBI to post a 2011 net profit of 943.5 million euros on average, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine. Its SmartEstimate that weights analysts’ estimates by their previous forecasting accuracy saw net profit of 934.1 million.The stock fell 1.2 percent to 22.97 euros by 0730 GMT, while the pan-European banking sector index edged up 0.4 percent.Raiffeisen said last month its Hungarian business could face 120 million euros in losses because of Budapest’s plan to let households repay foreign currency loans below market rates.Stepic told Wirtschaftsblatt his bank had already taken a 100 million euro writedown in the first half on Hungary.”Because of the crisis in Hungary, the second half will certainly not be any better, rather worse. But it is not yet possible to put figures on how much will be affected by Hungary’s mandatory exchange,” he said.Raiffeisen had said on Monday it needed to add around 100 million euros more to provisions due to the new Hungarian loan law and faced “an additional significant provisioning need because of the difficult market environment in Hungary”.Stepic said he saw no need to revalue Raiffeisen’s CDS portfolio, which stood at 17 million euros at the end of June. He also said there was no sign that the bank would have to write down the value of its Ukrainian business. ($1 = 0.725 Euros)

Rock City Club opens doors on Web for aspiring bands


Rockcityclub.com launches October 14, dubbing itself a “social music network” with aggressive plans to consolidate services such as artist development, promotion and distribution into a one-stop shop integrated with Facebook, Twitter and other social media.Jack Wishna, who has previously brokered Las Vegas concert deals for the likes of Michael Jackson and Britney Spears and is chief executive of Rock City Club parent company Rockrena, told Reuters the site is designed to create tomorrow’s music stars rather than simply identify them.”Everyone looks at discovering talent these days from what they see,” said Wishna. “They see ‘American Idol.’ They see ‘The X-Factor.’ They see ‘The Voice’ and MySpace and YouTube. It’s a crowded field, and all they do is look for the needle in the haystack. What we do, in essence, is take care of the haystack.”Rock City Club’s ambitious platform takes a broad approach to developing artists online. Performers register via Facebook or Twitter and gain access to applications that help organize and distribute music, raise their profile among potential fans and allow them to interact with listeners.As artists gain a following, Rock City plans to offer the most popular performers a chance to stream live shows and compete for a performance contract at the Palms Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Selected artists also get coached by the “Producer’s Circle,” a group of on-staff advisors whose credits include songs for Madonna and Aerosmith.OLD SCHOOL, ONLINEWishna initially formed the idea with the late Don Kirshner, the famed music promoter and producer who helped launch the careers of Carole King and Neil Diamond. Rock City Club wants to merge new Web technology with Kirshner’s old-school approach to developing potential stars by working with talent that might not fit the reality TV mold.”American Idol rates popularity,” he said. “We are going to focus on core values like stage presence, talent and marketability that have made big names in the past,” he said.Fans can make money, too. If invited, a widget is placed on their Facebook page allowing friends to hear music from bands they support. When people purchase individual tracks online, the fan will receive 25 percent of the profits from each sale.Rock City Club, which charges a $12.95 monthly user fee, already has significant competition. ReverbNation, established in 2006, includes many of the same social media components at no charge, although it also has a “premium” package with more features at an additional cost.Additionally, MySpace recently recruited Justin Timberlake to help their rebranding as a music-based social network, and simply posting homemade videos on YouTube remains the easiest and cheapest way to gain exposure. Just ask Justin Beiber.Yet Wishna remains confident Rock City Club will offer more value and real results than its rivals.”There are a lot of firms who do a little of what we do, but there’s not one firm that does everything we do. We took a broken model, found ways to fix it and enhance the experience for the artists and the fans,” said Wishna.

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Snoehvit gas plant down again for repairs


"This temporary closure is due to the discovery of a contraction in a heat exchanger tube," the company said in a statement.It said the cause of the trouble could be "the presence of residual moisture following the maintenance shutdown earlier this year" but added that it was not sure yet."There are also plans to carry out some corrective maintenance during the shutdown," the company said.In the past year the plant, which processes gas from the Snoehvit field into LNG for transport by ship, has been taken out of service repeatedly because of technical problems.Its average output amounts to some 5.76 billion cubic metres per year.The partners in the Snoehvit field are Statoil with 33.53 percent, Total with 18.40 percent, Hess with 3.26 percent, GDF Suez with 12 percent, RWE Dea with 2.81 percent and Norwegian state-owned firm Petoro, which holds the remaining 30 percent.

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CME’s Donohue leaves door open on Europe exchange


* London Metal Exchange received interest from suitorsBy Ann Saphir and Jonathan SpicerCHICAGO, Oct 11 (Reuters) - CME Group Inc , which last year opened a London clearinghouse, may build out its European operations to include an exchange, its chief executive said on Tuesday.”We’re definitely evaluating” a build up of European trading operations, CME’s Craig Donohue said in an interview at the exchange’s Chicago headquarters. “I wouldn’t foreclose that opportunity. Right now the focus has been primarily on clearing, but that’s something that we’re certainly thinking about.”Donohue did not say whether the plan would be to build or to buy an exchange, but appeared not to rule out either.London Metal Exchange, which offers trading on a suite of metals futures that is largely missing from CME’s stable, said last month it is considering a sale after receiving expressions of interest. LME has said there are at least 10 suitors, but any potential deal is not likely to be done before the end of the second quarter next year, if one is done at all.Although Donohue and other exchange officials have repeatedly said they see no “large-scale” acquisitions in CME’s near future, Donohue seemed to suggest LME could be a target.”I’ve never been specific about what constitutes large, but certainly if you looked at our past, large-scale would be like Chicago Board of Trade or New York Mercantile Exchange,” Donohue said.CME bought CBOT for $11 billion in 2007 and it bought Nymex for $8 billion in 2008. Observers say LME could be valued at about $1 billion.”We’ve always had a very focused mergers and acquisitions strategy. It’s been derivatives only,” he said. “For those reasons, that narrows the range of exchange companies that we’re particularly interested in.”

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