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The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week

Martha Mirage
Does she really exist?


You see, the stories about La Martha are getting just too bizarre. We're beginning to think that she's nothing more than the creation of some crackpot performance artist -- a female Andy Kaufman run amok.

First it was her savage attack on a head of cabbage while protesting her innocence on CBS' The Early Show. Then it was her farewell speech, in which she lamented her impending separation from her "two beloved, fun-loving dogs" and her "seven lively cats." Then it was the oddity of how the longer Martha stays in prison, the higher her company's stock price goes. (Shares are up 75% since she went to jail.)

And the latest strangeness? That would be the news, reported by People, that America's most famous detainee of domesticity led a team in her prison's annual holiday decorating contest -- and lost.

Team Stewart's display of origami cranes "wasn't all that great," People reported a fellow inmate of Stewart as saying. First place went to a "small and homey" display of "snow-covered hills and sleds and clouds on the wall."

OK, guys. Enough already. That was a pretty funny joke you had going for the past few years about this Martha Stewart character, but can you stop now? This is getting too weird by half.

3. Azteca to the Limit One More Time

The good ol' U.S. of A., of course, is the world's leading producer of executive hubris. But as Ricardo B. Salinas Pliego illustrated this week, Mexico, our friendly neighbor to the south, is mounting a challenge in the corporate chutzpah sweepstakes.

On Tuesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint accusing Salinas -- the chairman and controlling shareholder of Mexican broadcaster TV Azteca (TZA) -- of all sorts of fraudulent behavior surrounding Salinas' participation in a 2003 deal involving the TV Azteca subsidiary Unefon, a Mexican telco.

In a nutshell, TV Azteca's Unefon owed telecom gearmaker Nortel (NT) more than $300 million but found itself unwilling or unable to pay it. After a certain amount of legal skirmishing, Unefon agreed to settle the debt for $150 million in a deal that required Nortel to sell $325 million of face-value debt for $107 million to a brand-new company called Codisco.

All parties involved were apparently satisfied by the transaction. But the party that ended up really satisfied was Codisco. That's because three months after Codisco bought the distressed Unefon debt for $107 million, Unefon suddenly found itself willing and able to pay off the debt in full. Yes, within just a few weeks, Codisco had made a $218 million profit on a $107 million investment.

Now, here's the punchline: A half-owner of Codisco, according to the SEC, was none other than Ricardo B. Salinas Pliego. That's right: TV Azteca's chairman.

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