CME's Block Heads; Cuban's Patent Play; Cristina Plays Peron; Roche, Ross and Rachel; Pandit's Pay Problem.

5. CME's Block Heads

It wasn't quite a scene from Norma Rae when an assembly of CME(:CME) traders walked off the job; then again, it wasn't quite normal either.

A group of independent floor traders, or so-called "locals," boycotted the trading of options on Eurodollar futures last Friday morning as a show of solidarity against privately negotiated "block trades" that they maintain are putting them at a disadvantage. The protestors caused the market to go quiet, but not entirely silent, until they returned later that afternoon.

Put very, very simply, Eurodollar contracts are bets on moves in interest rates and, like the action at the NYSE(:NYX), there is a hybrid system for trading options on those contracts. Some are traded electronically and some are traded via open outcry in "pits" where locals yell and scream at each other to arrive at a fair price.

And then sometimes, when the deal is really big, customers avoid the system entirely by matching a buyer and seller away from the market, and then report the price back after the fact. It's these block trades that caused the locals to storm out last week because they didn't see the action, let alone snag a piece of it.

Like we said, we ain't talking about Attica here. The inmates didn't take over the asylum because of pit overcrowding or unsafe working conditions. They just took an extra-long lunch to bemoan the fact that more and more business is moving away from them, either to cyberspace or to backrooms where orders have less of a chance of being front-run.

And let's be honest all you locals, if you had to shop a huge chunk of sophisticated merchandise around, what would you do? Parade it in front of all your friends in the pit like chum to sharks, or get it as far away from your pals as possible?

Exactly. Quite honestly, we'd rather hear you cry over spilt milk than over the open outcry system.

Look fellas, we understand your position and we sympathize with your plight, however, it's not the CME that's passing you by, it's technology. Your argument that customers can get better pricing in the pits is as tired as John Henry's arms after he battled the machine. So strike all you want, but we all know what happened to that guy.

Eventually, he struck out.

4. Cuban's Patent Play

Put down those victory cigars all you Vringo(:VRNG) shareholders. Apparently, Mark Cuban's investment is less about your company's prowess than its patents.

News that the owner of the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks purchased a sizable chunk of the mobile networking software provider sent its shares up over 30% on Monday to $3.97. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, the bellicose billionaire disclosed ownership of 1.03 million common shares, representing a 7.4% stake in Vringo.

Considering that Vringo is still trading below its June 2010 IPO price of $4.60, as well as the fact that it lost $7.5 million in 2011 with revenue totaling $718,000, you can understand why Cuban's maneuver left a lot of puzzled market-watchers wondering: What in the name of Dirk Nowitzki is that nut-job up to now?

Was he interested in the company's Facetone app in the wake of last week's Facebook's mind-splattering $1 billion acquisition of photo-sharer Instagram? Was that the slam dunk that Cuban saw in Vringo's future?

Nah, nothing of the sort. That would be playing offense, and while he can often be quite offensive to referees, Cuban knows full well that defense that wins championships. And that's exactly what his Vringo bid was all about: Good old-fashioned defense.

"This is a hedge against the unlimited patent exposure all the companies I have investments in face. Patent risk is impossible to quantify," wrote Cuban in an e-mail to our good friends over at Forbes. "It's unrealistic for most small to medium businesses to have any clue which patents they are at risk over."

You see folks, what really moved Mark's hand was Vringo's plans to merge with Innovate/Protect, an intellectual property-based company that owns the patent assets of long-since-forgotten search engine Lycos.

Innovate/Protect is involved in patent litigation with a number of companies, including Google(:GOOG) and AOL(:AOL), alleging that they are "unlawfully using systems that incorporate features claimed in two patents owned by I/P Engine," a unit of the company.

Yep, despite his long-held -- and much-blogged -- hatred for so-called patent trolls, Cuban decided that unlike the Miami Heat in last year's NBA finals, he simply could not beat them.

So despite all his bluster, he joined them.

3. Cristina Plays Peron

Don't cry for Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, she just grabbed herself an oil company!

Sorry, but it's hard not to hear the strains of Evita whenever the popular -- and populist -- Cristina takes center stage as she did this week when she moved to re-nationalize the country's largest oil company.

And come to think of it, the ideal song from the Tony-winning musical that best sums up her push to take back YPF(:YPF) may be "Oh What a Circus," because her ridiculous ploy has created quite the sideshow indeed.

Fernandez's plan, currently being debated by the country's Congress, would give Argentina a majority stake in YPF by taking control of 51% of its shares currently held by Spain's Repsol.

Shares of YPF tanked over 30% Wednesday and are down over 70% in the past year, despite oil prices moving drastically higher and the company's discovery of a huge shale deposit in the western part of the country. Shares of Repsol have plummeted over 15% in the past week as a result of the Argentine threat.

Of course, YPF's inability to capitalize on its reserves is most certainly not the fault of her government's haphazard energy policies. No, in Cristina's eyes, the fact that Argentina's populace is suffering through double-digit inflation and an energy shortage, despite the country's role as an oil-producing nation, is the fault of Repsol's "emptying" YPF.

YPF, for the record, was privatized in the 1990s and Repsol's subsidiary in Argentina holds 57% of its shares. Repsol's Chairman Antonio Brufau said the Spain-based group will demand a compensation of approximately $10 billion from Argentina for its aggressive behavior.

Cristina, on the other hand, is telling the now-irate Spaniards that they'll take what she gives them. Why? Because that's what her late husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, is telling her to do.

"I hope he's watching over me because he always wanted to recover YPF for the country," said Argentina's President, who added, "I am a head of state and not a hoodlum."

Perhaps Cristina, but you are also not Madonna. And when Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez applauds your act, as he did this week, you should seriously consider changing your tune. Argentina is already shut out of international debt markets because of the country's 2001 default and this latest in a string of nationalization initiatives will only keep foreign capital further away when you need it the most.

Listen, we understand that you have a very mad existence down there, but if there is one thing we know, it's that when you break promises to international investors, they will keep their distance.

Wait! That sounds familiar, doesn't it? Maybe if we hum it we'll recognize it.

2. Roche, Ross and Rachel

Sorry folks, but we have lost all interest in Roche's courtship of Illumina(:ILMN) and are officially changing the channel. Like the on-again, off-again TV romances between Ross and Rachel on Friends and Sam and Diane on Cheers, the thrill of this real-life corporate chase has devolved into highly unwatchable -- and ultimately predictable -- sit-com stupidity.

Roche CEO Severin Schwan announced Wednesday that his company's $51 a share, $6.7 billion offer to buy Illumina will expire on April 20, thereby ending the drugmaker's three-month quest to acquire the genetics giant.

Illumina's stock sank as low as $40 per share on the news; although most of the hot money had already started to seep out of the stock last week when it became clear that Illumina was indeed serious about rebuffing Roche's bid.

"We continue to hold Illumina and its management in very high regard but, with access only to public information about Illumina's business and prospects, we do not believe that a price above Roche's offer for Illumina of $51 per share would be in the interest of Roche's shareholders," said Schwan in a statement.

Oh, poor Severin. Illumina remains the Apple of his eye, but the company just won't open itself up to him. (Well, for that matter Illumina considers itself the Apple of its own eye, calling itself "the Apple of the genomics business," but still.)

Maybe if he wasn't so darn desperate all the time, he would get the girl, or in this case the genomics company, much earlier. Remember that a mere three weeks ago, Roche raised its price to $51 a share from $44.50.

And just last week Roche wrote a love letter to Illumina shareholders, telling them that its sweetened offer was a "starting point for negotiations."

Come on guys! Can't you play it cool just once? If $51 was last week's "starting point," why on earth should Ilumina shareholders believe that it's this week's ending point? Clearly with that type of loose talk the brass at Illumina will think there is a higher price on the way, even without rival bidders joining the fray.

And even if other suitors do pop up, we highly doubt Roche will be deterred from its goal. Seriously, did you ever really think that Rachel was going to end up with Joey? Or Diane with Frasier Crane?

Of course not!

Look, these two crazy kids will get together in the end. Everybody knows that eventually time -- and money -- conquers all. The same nonsense occurred during Roche's respective hook-ups with Genentech and Ventana. It's in their character.

And what happens in the very odd event they don't wind up hitched?

Don't worry. Unlike network TV, we guarantee you that in this case the spin-offs will be far more comical than the original show. With these guys, it has to be.

1. Pandit's Pay Problem

Buck up Vikram. Your shareholders may not believe you are worth the money, but we here at the Dumbest Lab say you are worth every million Citigroup (:C) stuffs in your pockets.

We're not kidding. Your bank has literally been a vault of dumb material for us.

Let's take the bank's annual meeting Tuesday, for example, where a whopping 55% of Citi shareholders voted against the company's executive pay packages, including CEO Vikram Pandit's $15 million for last year and $10 million retention pay.

The vote, which was mandated under Dodd-Frank's "say on pay" statute, is non-binding, but it still shows the deep-seated discontent among Citi investors, despite the bank's significant outperformance so far this year.

Seriously, Citi shares are up 33% year-to-date, trouncing the returns of not only the S&P 500 but also rivals JPMorgan Chase(:JPM) and Wells Fargo(:WFC), yet its minions still want to take a poke at Pandit?

Come on guys. You almost make it too easy for us.

And that's just the low hanging fruit. Last month the Federal Reserve had its own fun at Citi's expense when it barred the bank from raising its dividend, saying the bank was not durable enough to pass its stress test. And this rebuke came after Pandit had promised to hike the bank's dividend.

Oh man, it's bad enough when we take our licks, but when Ben Bernanke is doing the punking, you know you've got an image problem.

That said, things could be looking up for everybody's favorite whipping bank. Analyst Meredith Whitney upgraded Citigroup to hold from underperform. Yep, good old Meredith, who in 2007 made her bones by correctly predicting that Citi would be sunk by subprime mortgages, has reversed course and said something neutral, if not outwardly nice, about Citi shares.

Who knows? Maybe things are changing at Citi. Heck, former Chairman Dick Parsons is leaving and you know how much joy his ineptitude gave us. Perhaps Whitney's call is finally the sign that Pandit's luck is turning and we won't have Citigroup to kick around anymore.

Lord we hope not.

-- Written by Gregg Greenberg in New York.