Who are you going to believe -- The Business Press Maven and The Wall Street Journal or a lot of other media outlets and your lying eyes?
Sure, the truth is
technically turned a profit in its second quarter, reported Thursday. But it was mostly a function of cost-cutting and losses in the company's all-important cell-phone division, as operating losses increased to $346 million from $332 million. Ouch.
That's not to say that the company did not exceed Wall Street's subsistence-level expectations, but everything considered, it is appropriate to curb enthusiasm. That's just what
The Wall Street Journal
did, but many others did not. Instead, they declared all systems go on Motorola's comeback. Savvy investors would do better to wait for more meaningful proof.
Here is the
"Motorola Ekes Out a Small Profit:
Cost Cutting Helps; Cellphone Losses Continue to Widen"
And its picture-perfect lead:
"Cost cutting helped Motorola Inc. break even in the second quarter, the company said, despite a wider loss at its troubled cellphone business."
Remember: cost-cutting is not meaningless. But you can't cut costs forever, and frequently costs cuts have an impact on future business, as those thousands of fired employees are no longer creating, peddling or delivering product. As a result, if you are a savvy investor you don't want to stand and cheer for earnings based largely on cost-cuts as the business media often do. You stand to get burned, long-term ... as the business media often do.
That's just what
often does -- and did here -- unfortunately. Whereas the
used the word "small" in its headline,
uses "big" in its:
"Motorola's Big Quarterly Profit Surprise:
After many disappointments, the troubled mobile-phone maker turns in a second-quarter profit of $4 million"
The lead then asks rhetorically whether things are improving and employs the unfortunate and misleading phrase "turned the tide after more than a year of disappointing results."
was getting sporting the phrase "turned tide,"
was showcasing a similar phrase -- "turned fortunes" -- in its lead:
"In a sign that it may be finally turning its fortunes around, Motorola Inc. surprised investors Thursday by reporting a small profit for the second quarter and revealing it had shipped more cell phones than in the first quarter. Its shares soared."
While the article was top-heavy with giddiness, the fact of the cell-phone business' condition was buried toward the end and even there came as a side mention:
"The cell phone unit, Motorola's largest by sales, posted an operating loss of $346 million..."
And while that
Wall Street Journal
article rightfully pointed out prominently in its second sentence and picture caption that Motorola surprised by maintaining its cell-phone market share worldwide, it did not -- like
The Financial Times
-- let market-share maintenance alone serve as reason for unbridled celebration, when losses are still increasing.
Remember: From giving away newspapers online to cell phones to lemonade, you can always attract customers if you are selling your product at a loss. Such basic economics was lost on the breathless
, which ran with a panting, punny headline:
"Motorola rings in changes"
And the story led with the misleading talk of how "stronger-than-expected mobile phone sales helped Motorola report a small second-quarter profit" before contending that this is a sign that Motorola's turnaround strategy is beginning to work.
That could be. But it could also be that when the company runs out of these thousands of job cuts -- or the job cuts begin to hurt business -- its turnaround will turn out to be a false start. Don't forget that the business media specializes in declaring false dawns.
So do yourself and your portfolio a favor by listening to the more cautious take of
The Wall Street Journal
and Business Press Maven on this one. Motorola's comeback could one day come. But this is no certain sign.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven? column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
to send him an email.