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Greenberg: CBI's 'The Shorts are Conflicted' Strategy

06/18/14 - 02:01 PM EDT

Disclosure: I've done zero work, and have no intentions to do any work, on Chicago Bridge & Iron CBI, which was the focus of an accounting takedown by Prescience Point Research Group.But I do have a take on CBI's response -- and I wouldn't be saying anything if it wasn't for the nature of its response.Not this part:CB&I has reviewed the report and strongly disagrees with its assumptions and conclusions.But this part:Notably, the report warns readers to assume that the short-selling firm and/or its affiliates hold short positions in CB&I common stock and that they stand to realize significant gains in the event that CB&I's stock price declines. CB&I believes that this conflict of interest should cause the report and its conclusions to be viewed skeptically.To which I say: Of course they're conflicted -- but no more or less conflicted than somebody own owns the stock. Prescience Point, which says it spoke with the company twice during its research, discloses that it's short at the top of its report.This ridiculous concept of trying to deflect critical commentary because the author is short is feeble, amateurish and, well, absurd, unless the company also criticizes bullish reports by analysts who it believes are conflicted because they own the stock.Reality: Everybody, if they own or short a stock, is conflicted. Everybody talks their book. That's Wall Street.

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Greenberg: The Tesla-izing of SolarCity?

06/17/14 - 05:31 PM EDT

If all else fails, or at least the stock isn't sizzling the way it should be, change the story. That's the moral of SolarCity, with news that it's planning to acquire Silevo, an unknown maker of high-efficient solar panels. The deal, in SolarCity's words, will make it the "most vertically integrated solar company in the world." We can slice it and dice it any way we want, but to Reality Check the most striking part of the the deal was the role Elon Musk, SolarCity's chairman: He opened the call and pretty much ended it. Until now, he has has been much more of a silent partner at a company run by his cousins, Lyndon and Peter Rive. The obvious question: Why do this deal?

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Greenberg: Valeant Claims Critics Use ‘Wrong Assumptions’

06/13/14 - 07:42 AM EDT

In a letter to employees filed with the SEC Thursday, Valeant Pharmaceuticals' CEO Michael Pearson claimed critics are using “the wrong assumptions” as they analyze the company.Wrong assumptions. Really? That’s like a company telling a reporter or analyst, who pushes too hard, that they’re asking the “wrong” questions. (Which, in general, usually means they're the right questions.)From the letter:"Our actions have generated a lot of attention from the media, and we expect this transaction will continue to be the focus of many press reports. Unfortunately, some of these reports have criticized our overall business model and raised questions about our approach to R&D. We disagree with these criticisms and they are often based upon wrong assumptions, and we have been setting the record straight with facts about our operating model and the performance of our businesses."

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Greenberg: Science May Not Support Boulder Brands' Gluten Claims

06/12/14 - 02:09 PM EDT

I totally missed this story when it first came out in May, but it's just as relevant today -- even more so with the surge in shares of Boulder Brands BDBD, a gluten-free play: The doctor behind the gluten-free craze says he was wrong.Dr. Peter Gibson's reversal has been widely reported in a variety of publications, including Real Clear Science, the New Yorker and even on Good Morning America.But you wouldn't know it by the stock-goosing comments of Boulder Brands' CEO Stephen Hughes, at a William Blair conference earlier this week. Boulder owns a number of leading gluten-free brands, including Udi's and Glutino.In his presentation, speaking of gluten, he said:"So the reality is, this is one of those ingredients that we screwed around with. We hybridized wheat to make it more glutinous, so you could make bread faster, cheaper, better. Gluten is glue in Latin, and what we created was something that did make better bread, did make cheaper bread, but it's very hard to digest and it creates a lot of unintended consequences."

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Greenberg: United 'One Sick Bird'

06/09/14 - 10:46 AM EDT

The "One Sick Bird" in that headline, regarding United Continental Holdings, is straight out of a headline in today's Wall Street Journal, which refers to the airline as "one sick bird."I fly United monthly from San Diego to New York. I have Gold status. I generally sit in first class, which means I should see the airline at its best.What I see is an airline that offers zero consistency in product, morale or service.And this is four years after the two airlines merged. Yet, as the Journal points out, they still haven't merged their fleets because they can't get the flight attendants to sign a new, joint contract. (Compare that with Delta, which somehow not only managed to rapidly merge two airlines, but do it swiftly and almost seamlessly.)In the Journal piece, United CEO Jeff Smisek, who hit my list of nominees last year for Worst CEO, put the blame everywhere but at his office. He said, notably:"Every hub has to earn its keep every day. Nothing is sacrosanct at any hub. We will make adjustments as are appropriate."

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Greenberg: Can Iridium Avoid Another Cash Crunch?

06/04/14 - 11:29 AM EDT

I was on-air at CNBC Tuesday when one of the anchors asked Jeff Saut, the chief strategist of Raymond James, his favorite stocks. Jeff, an old friend, immediately said, Iridium. To which I said, 'I just red-flagged Iridium in a 3,000-word piece on Reality Check.' To which he said, 'Ron Baron,' of Baron Funds, a well-respected manager, with an extraordinary track record, just bought a lot of Iridium's stock.' To which I said, 'Green flags and red flags, that's what makes markets.' That is the one thing I don't believe you'll find any disagreement regarding Iridium, or any other company. In my years of doing this, there is one truism: There are very smart people, who think they know better, on both sides of many stocks. Often they both get it right and wrong, depending on timing. But in the end, one often prevails.

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Greenberg: Apple's Latest Ad-Stravaganza

06/02/14 - 04:53 PM EDT

The live blogging, constant TV coverage and the overall hype surrounding the Apple developer's conference has me wondering: But, why? In what amounts to a giant free advertisement, Apple gets coverage of the latest and greatest tweaks to its operating system and even new products. But, for the most part, everything being rolled out, for the average user, is incremental (and, it could be argued, annoying because if the new operating system is at all radically different than the one customers just learned to use, they may now have to learn something different.)

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Greenberg: Valeant's $150 Billion 'Mistake'

05/29/14 - 02:37 PM EDT

The most significant thing that came out of Valeant's VRX investor call Wednesday was this comment from CEO Mike Pearson: 'I probably was incorrect in talking about the $150 billion market cap company. That was just more a statement that we are not just going to sit back and do nothing and that we are just like each of the business units as hungry to achieve organic growth and continue to build shareholder value.' Later in the day, Pearson added: 'And I think we put -- maybe putting the $150 billion number out was a mistake, but I think our investors understood that. It meant that we're not satisfied with where we are. We're going to continue to try to build and drive shareholder value. And if you do that, you're eventually going to have a higher market cap.' They were 'incorrect' about discussing the $150 billion market cap? It was a 'mistake'?

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Greenberg: SolarCity Signaling Slowdown with Groupon Deal

05/28/14 - 11:50 AM EDT

Here is a given in business: When companies start giving discounts and coupons, it's not out of strength.Today SolarCity issued a press release on its partnership with Groupon headlined, "SolarCity and Groupon Offer First of Its Kind Deal on Solar Power."From the press release:"Groupon (GRPN) will work with SolarCity (SCTY), the nation's largest solar power provider, to offer deals on solar systems in the Groupon marketplace. SolarCity makes it possible for many homeowners to pay less for solar electricity than they pay for utility power. For a limited time, customers can benefit from additional savings with a deal from Groupon by paying $1 for $400 off home solar power."Groupon has more than 200,000 active deals and more than 51 million active customers globally. The SolarCity offer is Groupon's first national deal in the solar category and is part of their growing collection of home and auto services deals."After purchasing today's solar deal on Groupon, homeowners will be contacted by SolarCity to schedule a consultation. If the homeowner decides to move forward with solar service, the discount will be applied. Homeowners can install their solar system at no additional cost and pay only for the power. SolarCity currently serves thousands of communities and major metropolitan areas in 15 states."

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Greenberg: Cracks at Kors?

05/28/14 - 11:01 AM EDT

Michael Kors beat on the top and bottom lines, but this is worth noting: Gross margin was 59.9%. While that's in line with the company's guidance, which called for a "slightly higher" number than last year's 57.7%, it missed when compared with 60.1% a year earlier.What's more, on its call this morning, the company guided to a slightly "lower-than-expected" margin for the current quarter.More disconcerting, perhaps: Last quarter's meager margin performance, relative to expectations, came on top of 12.5% increase in revenue. In theory, at least, margin should have risen commensurately.I understand the concept/argument that "everybody in retail missed on margin" in what arguably has been a horrible market for the sector.But that, I believe, makes my point stronger. Everybody and Kors is missing on its margin guidance -- yet, with better-than-expected revenue, it's the outlier against its peers, customers and the malls themselves. So the implication is that, in order to keep its revenue up, Kors is discounting more than ever.Lower margin guidance, as the company provided for this quarter, would seem to confirm that. Higher inventory, as was the case, doesn't help, and this suggests more discounting is on the way.

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Herb Greenberg is the editor of Herb Greenberg's Reality Check, a subscription newsletter designed to help investors better manage risk.

Greenberg has been a financial journalist for more than 30 years, working most recently as a senior stocks commentator on CNBC's business day programming and on CNBC.com. He was also co-president of Greenberg Meritz Research & Analytics. He is a former weekend investor columnist for The Wall Street Journal and a former senior columnist for MarketWatch.

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Prior to joining MarketWatch, Greenberg was senior columnist forTheStreet. He previously spent 10 years as the "Business Insider" columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and nearly seven years asFortune magazine's monthly "Against the Grain" columnist. Before that, he was the New York financial correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and a financial reporter in its Chicago newsroom. Greenberg has held various positions at other media outlets including Crain's Chicago Business and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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