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The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week

4. See You in Courtney

For some people, the turn-of-the-century stock bubble represents everything that could go wrong on Wall Street.

But you know what? We miss it.

The latest wave of go-go nostalgia washed over us Monday, following the Securities and Exchange Commission's announcement of fraud charges against investment adviser and TV talking head Courtney D. Smith.

Smith, the SEC alleges, publicly touted the shares of telemarketing/shopping-mall-kiosk/car rental company GenesisIntermedia from 1999 through 2001 in return for $1.1 million in cash and stock secretly paid him by the company's CEO.

Whatever the truth of the allegations -- his lawyer denies the charges -- we must thank Smith for giving us an excuse to wander back down memory lane.

The SEC complaint notes, for example, that Smith managed to get on Bloomberg TV seven times over four months to tout GenesisIntermedia -- an average of once every 12 trading days -- spouting apparent nonsense such as how the company was ready to transform itself "from a marketing powerhouse to an Internet powerhouse."

This, about a company that in 1999, 2000 and the first nine months of 2001 lost $8 million, $34 million and $119 million, respectively.

Smith also got to go on CNBC and recommended the company as his "Double Your Money Pick" -- twice.

And on CNNfn, reports the SEC, Smith announced that GenesisIntermedia "would be the next CMGI (CMGI) in the Internet space."

CMGI, to refresh your memory, was the Internet incubator company that went from a split-adjusted $2 in early 1998 all the way past $150 two years later.

These days, of course, CMGI is trading back around $2.

Again, kudos to Smith for reminding us that once upon a time, being compared to CMGI was considered a compliment. How are we ever going to explain that one to our grandkids?

5. The Softer Side of Wal-Mart

We know Wal-Mart (WMT) is supposed to be a people-friendly place, but, gosh, they send mixed messages.

Wal-Mart's Big Beef
It butchers a store

As The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, the company has come up with a memorable response to a unionization drive at one of its stores in Quebec: It's shutting it down.

"We have been unable to reach an agreement with the union that in our view would allow the store to operate efficiently and profitably," a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Journal.

Wal-Mart, of course, has long played whack-a-mole with unionization efforts. As the Journal reminds us, five years ago, a group of Wal-Mart butchers voted to unionize. Within weeks, Wal-Mart announced it would no longer employ any butchers anywhere, and would stock precut, prepackaged beef instead.

Recently, Wal-Mart flooded the airwaves with advertisements and public relations efforts designed to persuade folks how warm and fuzzy a place Wal-Mart is at which to shop and work.

But given the union news, along with past allegations of off-the-clock labor and underpaid cleaning crews, we're having a hard time persuading ourselves that Wal-Mart hasn't built its everyday low prices on the backs of everyday low compensation of its workforce.

But who are we to judge? To settle the issue, let's ask Wal-Mart customers buying steaks in Quebec.

Click here to read a letter about this story.

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