The 5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week: Jan. 27
01/27/12 - 05:00 AM EST
5. Treehouse Leaves Doubts
Come on Treehouse Foods(THS), give us a break. You are sending us to the nuthouse with all your earnings excuses.
Shares of the food maker, which cooks up noshables ranging from soups to salsas, sank almost 10% last Friday, after it forecast quarterly and full-year results below market expectations.
Treehouse brass blamed the unseasonably warm winter for its troubles, saying the mild weather hurt its soup and hot cereal sales. As a result, the company now says it will earn a profit of 84 to 87 cents a share for the fourth quarter, well below Wall Street's $1.07 estimate, when it officially reports results on Feb. 10.
As for the full year, Treehouse now predicts a 2011 profit of $2.70 to $2.73 a share, falling short of its previous estimate of $2.90 to $3.00 a share. According to the company, the lower guidance is due to higher sales in discount stores eating into the margins.
Alright. Let's stop right there for a second. For those not keeping score -- or have failed to keep up, this is the third time that Treehouse has taken an axe to its yearly guidance. Moreover, on each occasion those busy little elves have come up with a different reason for reducing numbers, offering every ruse short of the dog ate my revenue projections.
Let's do a quick review, shall we?
Back in May 2011, Treehouse dropped its yearly earnings outlook to a range of $3.00 to $3.08 because of a pricey new IT systems rollout. At the time, analysts were expecting the company to post earnings of $3.16 per share for fiscal 2011.
Then barely a month later in June, the company chopped its yearly earnings outlook to the aforementioned $2.90 to $3.00 per share spread, blaming higher freight, transportation, packaging and commodity costs.
Then comes last Friday's announcement that the real earnings for 2011 will be somewhere between $2.70 and $2.73 because of low-end stores and higher-than-expected temperatures.
Add it all up, and by our unofficial count, Treehouse has lowered its guidance 3 times totaling 15% in the last 10 months while giving at least 7 separate excuses for screwing up.
It's almost enough to drive you up a tree, isn't it?
4. RIM's Seismic Silliness
Research In Motion's(RIMM) new CEO must be working off a different Richter Scale than us, because we clearly have different interpretations of what can be considered "seismic."
RIM's stock buckled more than 8% on Monday on the news that Thorsten Heins would be replacing Co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie atop the company.
This latest shock comes after shares of the Blackberry maker cratered 74% in the past year, as it continues to relinquish market share and relevance to smartphone leaders Apple(AAPL) and Google(GOOG).
Apple's stock, in contrast, has gained 27% over the same time period, while Google's has dipped just 5%.
"This is not a seismic change," said Heins said on a conference call with investors on Monday, reiterating his desire not to split up the company. "I don't think there is some drastic change needed."
Wow! The company loses three fourths of its value in 12 months and its new CEO doesn't believe a massive overhaul is required to save the remaining quarter? Man, if we owned RIM stock right now, we would certainly be running for shelter too.
Then again, maybe we should have expected such a placid reaction from the well-entrenched Heins, considering he has been with the company since 2007, previously serving as its chief operating officer.
Prior to that position, Heins served as a former Siemens AG(SI) executive, which clearly did not help his cause with those Wall Street analysts who believe RIM requires a leader with a consumer-based background to stem Apple's advances.
"People may have been a little disheartened that he was defending the current RIM strategy," said Morgan Stanley analyst Ehud Gelblum. "I think (investors) might have wanted to hear a mea culpa."
Said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi to Reuters, "Picking Thorsten is a sign that they haven't quite decided that (a sale is what) they want to do, so they might give it yet another shot at looking at the business and trying to come back."
In other words, the market wanted a mover and a shaker. But RIM slipped again by choosing to stand its ground.
3. Martha vs. Macy's
Martha! Martha! Martha! There is just not enough Martha Stewart to go around.
On the other hand, if you ask the lawyers for Macy's(M), perhaps there is a bit too much of the Domestic Diva out there.
The department store chain filed a lawsuit Monday against Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia(MSO) in an attempt to break up a licensing deal between the housewares company and Macy's competitor J.C. Penney(JCP).
Back in December, Penney paid $38.5 million for a 16.6% stake in MSO and announced plans to open mini-Martha Stewart shops in its stores. Macy's says Martha's deal with Penney violates the terms of her so-called exclusive agreement with Macy's to sell Martha-branded items at its outlets.
Um, excuse us for asking, but what on earth did the folks down in Plano, Texas think was going to happen when it tried to muscle into Macy's territory? Did CEO Ron Johnson really think his company's arch-rival would stand idly by and let him steal their hot property?
Boy, for a guy who made his bones at Apple and Target(TGT), he sure was off-target on this one. We can't wait to see his next big move -- provided he escapes from this legal mess.
And speaking of legal messes, Martha Stewart herself is anything if not well-acquainted with the law (wink, wink), and she also should have known that the Penney deal would prove troublesome with her old buddies at Macy's.
And after her nasty split with Sears Holdings(SHLD) in 2009, one would think Martha would prefer to remain more tightly aligned with the upscale shoppers at Macy's as opposed to the more pedestrian purchasers at Penney.
Alas, that does not seem to be the case. Or at the very least Martha does not seem to care at this point.
Stewart seems completely sold on Ron Johnson's vision, or, more likely, the vision of $200 million in royalties and licensing fees she will collect from him over the next 10 years. And that's money she could really use considering her company has not booked a profitable year since 2007.
So back off Macy's! Business loyalty and brand dilution be damned! The one and only Martha Stewart says you can indeed have too much of a "good thing" ... or at least she can.
2. McDonald's Twitter Tragedy
Poor McDonald's(MCD). One would think the restaurant that serves billions of burgers could easily dish up a few lousy tweets. Right?
Earlier this week the fast food giant launched its first ever Twitter-based campaign to promote its farm fresh ingredients, offering the hashtags, #McDStories and #meetthe farmers. Unfortunately, after a few supportive posts, a storm of negative Twitter users took over the conversation and quickly made Ronald and Co. look like a bunch of clowns.
Included among the more tasteless tweets:
"I only eat McDonald's when I am ill because it makes me feel sick anyway. #McDStories.""Paid for my food but almost left cause I was high and convinced that the workers called the cops and were using my food as bait. #McDStories.""These #McDStories never get old, kinda like a box of McDonald's 10 piece Chicken McNuggets left in the sun for a week. #McDStories."
Ouch! That's harsh enough to make Grimace grimace! Or even turn the Hamburglar straight!
Yep, it got pretty McUgly, and within about two hours McDonald's yanked the #McDStories hashtag, saying that the effort "did not go as planned."
"As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we're learning from our experiences," said Rick Wion, McDonald's social media director, in a statement.
Yep, Mickey Dee's brass wound up looking like a bunch of twits this week. And while they may not be enjoying it too much, to be honest, we're lovin' it!
1. Volt Loses Charge
All this conspiracy talk about Chevy Volt fires is really burning us up. The problem with GM's(GM) all-important electric car is clearly not a faulty battery -- it's that nobody is buying the darned thing!
GM CEO Daniel Akerson cruised over to Capitol Hill this week to defend the automaker's response to a handful of Volt battery fires last June before the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officially started looking into the matter last November and ended its investigation last week, concluding that the Volt and other electric cars pose the same fire risks as gasoline-powered vehicles.
In his written testimony, Akerson stressed that fires only resulted when government regulators put the battery "through lab conditions that no driver would experience in the real world."
Memo to Mr. Akerson: We're not talking about the "real world." We're talking about Congress here.
Seriously, only on Planet Washington would a hearing be titled, "Volt Vehicle Fire: What did NHTSA Know and When Did They Know It?"
Will you guys get real? Just because the government still owns 26.5% of the company's shares post-bailout, this does not automatically mean that President Obama is trying to sweep safety risks under the floor mat.
If you remember, it took 10 months for the NHTSA and NASA to conclude that Toyota's(TM) so-called accelerator problems were the result of heavy-footed drivers, not badly-wired cars. Heck, compared to that investigation, this Volt inquiry was completed in no-time-flat.
In the end, that wild goose chase caused Toyota to recall -- unnecessarily in most cases -- over 7.5 million automobiles. And even if the Volt was unsafe -- which it's not -- GM can only dream of a recall that big. The Volt sold a mere 7,671 units last year, well below GM's 10,000 target.
So what held sales back? Was it the bad press over the batteries or some other quality issue?
Not at all. As TheStreet contributor Anton Wahlman adroitly points out, the flaming battery issue has been a non-factor and the Volt has the single highest customer satisfaction rating - 93% according to Consumer Reports just two months ago - of any car in the market, even higher than the Porsche 911 with 91%.
The real culprits, says Wahlman, are the bureaucrats in California's Democrat-dominated government who victimized the Volt by making the 2011 model ineligible to apply for California carpool lane status. As a result, all the buyers in the biggest plug-in car market in the country ran out and bought Nissan(NSANY.PK) LEAFs instead.
Yep, the Volt is quickly losing its charge because of baseless bipartisan bickering. Forgive us for feeling less than shocked.
--Written by Gregg Greenberg in New York.
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