Merrill Kicks Off Dark News Days

Public firms often seize on slow days to release bad news.
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I'm not sayin' it's true of everything we see during a holiday. I'm just sayin'.

But don't worry: The Business Press Maven will be your loyal servant on this deceptively important day. Just call me the Catcher in the Abyss.

At issue is how everybody and their tryptophan-laden brother takes off work on this Friday after Thanksgiving, truncated trading day that it is. And since companies know that, they tend to trip over themselves to release news that they especially want to fall into an abyss.

You want to effectively detonate a piece of bad news?

Well, just issue a press release late in the day on Wednesday, make an announcement overseas on Thursday or plant something with a cub wire reporter who in unlucky enough to work today, and guess what?

Chances are that the news, which will come out late Wednesday afternoon as shareholders are stuck in traffic, or on Thanksgiving or today when homeward-bound shareholders are stuck at the airport, will be forgotten by the time normal life resumes on Monday. The news will, as designed, fall on few ears.

I'm not sayin' it's true of everything we see. I'm just sayin'.

Last year, the big news "broke" late on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that Kirk Kerkorian had sold a good portion of his

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

stake. Insider sales timed for this holiday period are a (dark) classic. We also had, on Thanksgiving itself no less, a long-overdue backdated stock admission. And before the shortened Friday was through, we had an announcement that a general counsel at another firm was fired because of backdating, and the cancellation of a highly-anticipated public meeting was announced, and more.

So what does today bring us?

Take

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

... puh-lease.

Outside of Japan, Asia has been the quiet front of the credit trouble that has turned great Wall Street structures like Mother Merrill into Tin Lizzies. Though it has been so far relatively quiet, Asia has been the increasing source of worry.

Which might be why we awoke this morning to this headline in The Wall Street Journal:

Merrill Ousts Asia Executive

.

This is how it apparently went down. "A person familiar with the matter" told

The Wall Street Journal

that its co-head of fixed income in Asia had been fired on Tuesday morning. Since the article appeared on Friday, the "person familiar with the matter" probably let the

Journal

in on the nerve-wracking firing (is there big trouble there too?) on Wednesday or Thursday. All perfectly designed for the article to run on Thursday or Friday and slip quickly into that abyss.

I'm not sayin' it's definitely true. I'm just sayin'.

Elsewhere: Tom Enders, the chief executive of

Airbus

, told employees in a speech overseas (where they work on Thanksgiving) that the weak dollar was "life-threatening for Airbus."

Ouch.

He was most probably verbally strong arming employees into concessions, using the slow news cycle to make his point and have the sharpness of it go as unnoticed as possible. But the astounding admission is well worth notice.

Though any one sale of insider stock could have happened coincidentally around the holiday season (it's understandable how a guy has to free up $6 million or $7 million in cash for gifts for the kids), it is the funniest little thing how right about the time the market closes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we start to see some reports of decent-sized sales. Here, the

Associated Press

runs a pre-holiday quickie on how president of

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

entertainment division

dumped 20,000 shares, all the better to hit the Black Friday sales with, we guess.

And in terms of possibly more telling insider sales,

The Rocky Mountain News'

Jeff Smith did a good job on Wednesday of catching the fact that

EchoStar

(DISH) - Get Report

executives have been selling

copious amounts of stock

, possibly signaling that the much-anticipated deal with AT&T will never be consummated. The sales were made in the last week, so the regulatory filing was released during this holiday week. Hmmm...

And before too long, we were hearing about how

Google

(MER)

put its potentially grand plans for

pay-per-call Web ads

on hold.

Again, any one of these events could have only coincidentally become news on this week in which they are almost guaranteed to be ignored. But just in case -- and so you know -- The Business Press Maven is one the job with open eyes today. And if you see anything that smells of an attempt at burying bad news, email me. I'll post the worst cases on Columnist Conversation. I'll try to get back to you with my thoughts too, though sometimes -- because of the volume of mail -- it's hard to be prompt. But I will spend today as the Catcher in the Abyss.

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;

click here

to send him an email.