As you well know, the degree to which CEOs are declared geniuses by the business media can scare horses. But even though keeping a CEO seat warm and giving the occasional good quote or back-pat usually qualifies someone for being declared a genius, even The Business Press Maven is confused by this standard business media industry practice as it relates to those who run the so-called financial supermarkets.
Let me try to get this all straight, but please write to enlighten me further. My "pretty" little head is spinning, but I do know that more investor money is needlessly lost by those who invest with false confidence that the guy in charge is infallible, as a result of that undeservedly worshipful coverage.
When Sandy Weill, creator of the financial supermarket in the form of
, retired in the spring of 2006, The Business Press Maven was as
irate as he has ever been. Instead of weighing in on whether the concept of the financial supermarket -- every financial need, product and offering under one roof -- was a success or joke, the business media (sorry) Weill-ed away its time talking about Sandy's tan and poetry. How did the lifestyle-mode bootlicking add to investor understanding?
Well, it didn't, and that's the point.
No sooner had Weill walked out the door than the wheels started falling off his financial supermarket. (Do supermarkets even have wheels? Maybe the frozen food section started to melt? You get the point.) Citigroup, which had obviously been put together with paper and glue, had everything from regulatory to organization trouble.
That meant that when Charles Prince perched himself in Weill's old seat at Citigroup and then oversaw the company's implosion, he was declared not a genius but the world's biggest dunce.
Meanwhile, James Dimon, who was famously fired by Weill, steers the helm of
, and when third-quarter earnings appeared comparatively good (compared with Citigroup), he was declared a genius. Moreover, the concept of financial supermarkets was declared a success, because net income rose 2% in a quarter! Break out the bubbly! The debate is settled!
The Wall Street Journal
story from yesterday entitled: "
J.P. Morgan's Time to Grin: Vindication for Dimon as Bank's Quarter Outshines Citigroup's."
Never mind that a box of goat dung could have outshone Citigroup, the
was too busy passing final judgment on the financial supermarket, the same concept that was helping to tear Citigroup asunder, to offer any perspective of that sort:
"J.P. Morgan's financial results underscored the potential of the so-called universal bank, a model that Mr. Dimon helped create under the wing of legendary deal maker Sanford Weill at Citigroup. Yet it also shows how the corporate strategy, in which assorted financial businesses are brought under one roof to balance out a bank's performance in tough times, requires a strong and nimble management in order to prosper."
I'm more partial to
take. Look at this
spot-on headline :
Beware banks' bragging on earnings
J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have used their superior results this quarter to try and steal business from rivals. But are they really as strong as they look?"
No matter what, though, can we please call a moratorium on declaring CEOs geniuses or dolts on the last cyclical turn of their business? And let's wait this financial supermarket thing out before declaring it a lasting stroke of brilliance.
Now for a new but important economic discussion.
This is hardly scientific or worthy of the consideration of great economists, but it is urgent to any red-blooded New York foodie. As you know, The Business Press Maven has by in large been bullish throughout all the economic troubles and challenges we have faced over the last two years. And I don't want to be trite here. But The Business Press Maven has always seen some of life's bigger truths in pizza and chocolate, and I am thus declaring myself in an official state of stagflation-watch.
Piece of evidence one ,
David A. Brandon, Domino's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, said: "Unprecedented cost pressures and a weak consumer environment negatively impacted our domestic results in the quarter, which made striking the right balance between increasing prices, while operating in a period of declining traffic, very difficult.
Piece of evidence two,
Hershey Co. reported Thursday its third-quarter profit fell 66% from a year earlier, hurt by special restructuring charges, soaring costs of dairy milk and the performance of its premium-chocolate line. Hershey also projected a full-year profit below Wall Street's expectations, sending its stock to the lowest level in one year.
Piece of evidence three: TBD. To add the third leg to this watch, please be on the lookout and send me any evidence you see of stagflation in companies that provide some of life's small pleasures. Again: it's hardly scientific, and the business media won't make this connection (probably for good reason). But the Small Pleasure Index has always been a telling one for The Business Press Maven.
Finally, a quick reminder for those in the Chapel Hill, N.C., area: I'll be speaking tomorrow, Oct. 20, at 2 p.m. on the campus of the University of North Carolina. My topic will be the comparative strengths and weaknesses of business and sports coverage. I'll be on a panel with Hubert Davis, former Tar Heel, former New York Knick and current ESPN sportscaster. A splendid time will be had by all, so if you are in the area, please stop by and introduce yourself.
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.