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Herb's Hotline: Gateway's Confusing Conference Call

Welcome to my world, and what a pretty world it isn't, especially on damp East Coast days like today when there is nothing -- absolutely nothing! -- going on. (At least nothing I want to bore you with. The dog days of summer are coming ... and they're here!) What am I so grumpy about? Thought you'd never ask, and I don't want to sound petty (again!) so I won't go into telling you how the Palm Beach Post this morning acted like it was the first to reveal the Cyber-Care (CYBR) story in a piece that didn't mention that yesterday's Herb on TheStreet (with the more-than-able reporting by sidekick Martinez) broke the story that the SEC was sniffing around the company. They even quoted our source! But, hey, that's internal journalism bickering, and that's not what you're paying for here -- but wait a darned second -- this column is free! You get what you pay for, or fer, as the case may be!!! ... and before we leave Cyber-Care (for the last time, please?!) the Post (some of us give credit where credit is due) had a great line. It quoted a Cyber-Care exec as saying that if the SEC is looking into anything, it's looking into short-selling activity in the company. That may very well be true, but just remember this column's rule of thumb: The louder a company screams (especially about the short-sellers,) the worse its problems often wind up being...

This just in: This morning, Gateway (GTW) held a conference call hosted by Banc of America Securities. On the call, Gateway CFO John Todd said corporate demand is not great. (Not great, then why does Intel (INTC - Get Report) keep saying that it can't keep up with demand? But I digress... ) Todd said corporate business hasn't picked up year over year. (That's despite the widespread belief that corporate biz would rebound after a so-called Y2K lockdown. Yet here it is May; are we still talking Y2K? Maybe the short-sellers who had been warning that PCs have simply become too powerful for their own good, and that the market is simply glutted, were on to something. But I digress...) Todd also said Gateway doesn't expect there to be a DRAM shortage in the second half of the year, as some pundits and companies have been saying, and that there isn't one now. ... So, let's get this straight: Gateway says demand is weak. Intel has been saying it can't keep up with demand. And Advanced Micro Devices' (AMD - Get Report) business is booming. Gateway doesn't expect there to be a DRAM shortage, but Micron (MU - Get Report) does. PC makers were crying about a Y2K slowdown and business hasn't yet picked up. Once more, one plus one equaling everything but two. Anybody? (The good news is that Gateway didn't pre-announce a lousy quarter, as some on Wall Street had expected.)

Peppering Salton: PaineWebber analyst Jim Goll, a huge, huge fan of Salton (SFP), issued a report today suggesting that come next year, the George Foreman Grill company will either do a stock buyback or start paying dividends. And Salton will pay for it, he says, with the $82 million of free cash flow he believes the company will have by then. That's quite a leap of faith, considering that last year's free cash flow was a negative $100 million and it was $6 million in the first three fiscal quarters of this year. What's more, it's virtually impossible to say what the economy will look like that far out. Oh, and one other thing, as it applies to the chance of a dividend: I guess that means the company will have paid off $125 million in junk bonds -- the same junk bonds that carry restrictions regarding the payment of a dividend.

Taxi talk: This morning's item on Medallion Financial (TAXI - Get Report) shows just how much we/I take for granted. Quite a few readers (from nonurban areas, no doubt) wondered what a taxi medallion is. (No, it's not a shield to prevent drivers from psychotic passengers.) It's a license that gives the cab's owner the right to operate the cab. They sell for more than $200,000 apiece. ...

Finally, continuing with yesterday's theme of providing anecdotal evidence of a stock-market-related economic slowdown: From reader Dan Ader: "Tourist traffic [read: motel occupancy] is at a four-year low. My wife operates a small motel midway between Chicago and Wisconsin's Door County, and the usual weekend getaway crowd that blows out of the Big Windy for a romantic springtime escape among the cherry blossoms just ain't happening." (Or maybe it's gas prices that top $2 per gallon in some spots out there combined with dented stock portfolios.) ... And David Kahn reports: "My brother works for the State of Florida and issues air [emission-discharge] permits for large construction projects, such as paper mills and factories. He told me yesterday that last year at this time, applications for these permits were averaging one a day; now they are down to less than one a week. Even more interesting, several very large projects that had been using political leverage to speed up the permitting process in order to build more quickly have now begun stalling the process [requesting an additional 90 days to respond, for instance]. You do this when you want to put a construction project on hold without announcing a delay." (V. interesting.) ... Then yesterday Shaw Industries (SHX), which makes carpets, blew up. (Thanks, Bill Gerlach, for the heads-up on that one.) ... Got an anecdote? Shoot it over and maybe you'll see it in tomorrow's edition of ... The Hotline.
As originally published, this story contained an error. Please see Corrections and Clarifications .

Herb Greenberg writes daily for In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, though he owns stock in He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at . Greenberg also writes a monthly column for Fortune.

Mark Martinez assisted with the reporting of this column.

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