The Business Press Maven was on the edge of his couch after the close Thursday. With CNBC flickering away, he eagerly waited for Dell (DELL) - Get Report to report its earnings. I could barely move, even to grab a 43rd handful of popcorn.
This report was of great import to Dell as the PC-maker struggles to regain some semblance of its old footing. And it was important to the stock market, which is struggling to regain some semblance of its old footing.
Little did I know that I was about to (figuratively, at least) smother myself on a handful of popcorn kernels. If investors have to learn to tune out premature prognostication,
was about to provide a prime-time example of why.
There is a need for immediacy in television reporting, which is all fine and good within measure, I suppose. Traders react almost as quickly as television, so it's a match made ... somewhere. But for all the rest of you: beware, and be aware.
smothering began when, as soon as Dell's revenue and net income number scrolled into the public consciousness,
had three people commentating in purported detail on a 34-cent number that appeared disappointing. That's stunning, because there was no fill-out, let alone the essential first Dell conference call since pretty much forever.
The premature prognosticators laid down a caveat or two: "If it is clean, it would be disappointing," said one, pointing out the obvious. Of course. Why talk about the number until you know whether or not it's clean (which means no one-time charges)? Sure enough, the
tri-headed commentating monster alternately took the company to task or defended it, depending on the commentator, without waiting the minute or two until fill-out came. While this is important to do in any case, Dell was almost certainly going to come up with a couple of one-time charges and the like, with all its layoffs and auditing woes.
The commentators also did not wait a little bit of time more until this incredibly essential first conference call since pretty much forever came. In fact, there was a bit of confusion over whether Dell would even be talking or giving guidance.
When the fill-out came and that 34-cent number turned to 35 -- essentially where expectations were -- congratulations was given for "great math."
Ah, the bigotry of low expectations.
Anyhow, the defining note came during the call, when Michael Dell delivered cautionary comments about margins. But remember, savvy investor, when it comes to what you read, see or watch, the margin of error is always higher when premature prognostication comes into play.
Speaking of errors, let's talk Christmas season reporting.
Barely a day after the Business Press Maven called Cyber Monday a marketer's attempt at drumming up business that the business media take seriously because it was a catchy little phrase and gave them something to talk about, I had to take down a
Wall Street Journal
story that misled investors by making it seem as if Cyber Monday had actually gone well.
The reality is that it hadn't, but the business media, always on the troll for material to feed the beast, never let reality stand in their way. You know it's a farce when reality has to rush ahead to keep pace with jokes. A reader joked in an email earlier this week about possible articles to come: "I am waiting for the 'cyber sales forthe odd days of the month of December' report to come out in mid- to lateDecember."
And look what our friends at
delivered on Thursday: "
Move Over, 'Cyber Monday'," which included this gem:
In fact, the second week of December is traditionally so big that the folks at e-commerce giant eBay (EBAY) - Get Report have come up with their own moniker for the weekday that kicks it off: "Green Monday" (a reference to cash, rather than eco-friendly shopping). Company employees coined the term this month after realizing that, for the past three years, the strongest sales day for Shopping.com and other eBay sites was the second Monday of December. "It isn't Black Friday and it isn't Cyber Monday," says eBay spokesperson Wendy Sept. "Green Monday is the day that people actually go online and buy."
Finally, this brief housekeeping note. Some readers in the New York area have mentioned by email that they were going to show up to a speaking engagement, "What Hurts and What Helps: A Panel Discussion Exploring the Psyche of the Creative Mind," that I had tomorrow (Saturday) at a
. I don't have all your email addresses so can't contact you back, but just so you know: It was postponed until January. The discussion, incidentally, involves an actor, playwright, two visual artists and writer (me) -- interviewed together by a psychiatrist on the mental nature of creativity. You know what they say: give a psychiatrist a microphone and let the fun begin...
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
to send him an email.