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TheStreet Open House

The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week

3. Me and Edward, Edward Jones -- We Got a Thing Going On

The folks at Edward Jones tell the truth and nothing but the truth. It's the whole truth that they seem to have had a little trouble with.

As we learned from a series of recent settlement agreements with the SEC, the New York Stock Exchange and the National Association of Securities Dealers, the St. Louis-based brokerage firm has been doing a big business selling mutual funds to its clients.

While Edward Jones can sell clients mutual funds from 240 different families, historically 95% to 98% of its sales come from seven "preferred" families, according to the NASD. As Edward Jones has told its clients, the firm likes to focus on a handful of funds "that share," says EJ, "our same commitment to service, long-term investment objectives, and long-term performance."

Sounds great. Except that Edward Jones forgot to tell its clients another quality that made some of those families preferable: their habit of paying money to Edward Jones. Sharing revenue from Edward Jones-initiated sales, according to the SEC, "was a material factor, among others, in the selection of at least two of the preferred families."

There were a few other relevant things Edward Jones forgot to tell clients. For example, they made big money for brokers. As one executive pointed out to EJ's investment representatives, selling the preferred funds instead of the nonpreferred ones could add a quarter-million to an IR's paycheck over 10 years.

And, for a 2002 sales contest in which IRs competed for vacations to exotic locales, Edward Jones execs changed the usual rules on such contests so that only certain funds in the preferred families counted toward the trip. If an IR recommended funds that weren't on the preferred list but -- dare we say it -- might be better for clients, the sales didn't count.

To which we say: Great job, guys. We used to think that the mutual fund industry had exhausted all the bad press it could generate. But the hits just keep on coming.

4. High Fives All Around for UBS

Our memory of UBS' 32nd annual Media Week Conference is that we had a fine old time. But UBS isn't taking any chances.

See, last week UBS emailed us and other conference attendees a request for feedback on the conference, which took place Dec. 6-9 and featured folks like Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman, who discussed his intriguing vision of the future of the music business.

A Perfect Score
UBS makes it easy

All we had to do for the UBS feedback request was fill out a questionnaire in which we ranked the conference on about a dozen different criteria. How good, for example, were the speakers? What was the quality of our informal interactions with UBS salespeople? How satisfactory was the conference overall? On each particular issue, we could electronically mark our rating on a scale of 1 (meaning "poor") to 5 (meaning "excellent").

Except if we didn't feel like clicking on a number, we didn't have to. See, UBS already had filled out the form for us, rating UBS an excellent 5 on all of the quality-of-conference questions. All we had to do was click once to submit the form. Which is exactly what we did, giving UBS a rating of uninterrupted 5s.

Usually, we're impressed with UBS' research, but this time around we'll make an exception. To say that survey's presentation could influence its results is sort of like saying that your finger could get squashed if you hit it with a sledgehammer.

5. Bud Nips It in the Bud

You know, we usually are staunch defenders of truth in advertising. But when it comes to truth in beer advertising -- well, we're willing to cut people a little slack.

Which is why we're much amused by the outraged pronouncements emanating from Anheuser-Busch (BUD) of late. On Christmas Eve, the brewing conglomerate proudly announced that rival Coors Brewing had pulled TV ads for its low-carb beer Aspen Edge. Anheuser-Busch had challenged those ads with the networks, saying Coors had made "unsubstantiated taste preference claims" in comparisons to A-B's own low-carb beer, Michelob Ultra.

("We have study results that substantiate all claims made in our Aspen Edge advertising, and Coors stands by those results," says a Coors spokeswoman. "Rather than become embroiled in a pointless and distracting debate with A-B, we elected to pull the ads from rotation.")

The dispute comes in the wake of another advertising battle A-B is waging, this one against 11 ads aired by SABMiller. In response to A-B's complaints, Viacom's (VIAB) CBS pulled some of the Miller ads earlier this month, Reuters reported.

A Frosty One
Bud puts a chill on Miller's claims

In A-B's Christmas Eve announcement, you could hear the quiver of outrage in a statement from an A-B executive: "Competition is the lifeblood of American business," sales and marketing chief Michael J. Owens said, "but companies like Coors and SABMiller are now on notice that we will fight for truth in advertising."

Ah. Truth in advertising. That's rich. This from a company that made the claim, never quite substantiated, that a bull terrier named Spuds MacKenzie had a taste preference for Bud Light. (This from a company that, in fact, concealed the fact that the animal playing this party-guy dog was actually a gal.)

But you don't need a spokesdog to arouse our skepticism. We start questioning the veracity of beer ads the moment they hint that the authenticity of friendships has some sort of connection to the brand of beer that pals drink. So lighten up, A-B. Don't go foaming at the mouth.

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