*Special* Awards Only a Mother Could Love

<I>TSC</I> marvels at the lengths some will go to to claim a rank, any rank.
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Your mother was right. Everybody's got to be the best at something.

Michael Jordan's

the best at basketball,

Mickey's

the best mouse, and when it comes to chicken farming, nobody beats

Frank Perdue

.

But in the business world, competition for being the best can be fierce. So companies -- and Wall Street news makers -- do the next best thing to being best. They lower the bar by creating and promoting awards for themselves with criteria so narrow that only they can slip in.

Let's call them the Absurdity Awards. Here's some of 1998's best.

Where's the Beef?

For the second year in a row, the

Franklin Templeton Group's

Mark Mobius has been named the "No. 1 Global Emerging Markets Fund Manager" of the year by

Reuters

, according to Franklin.

Now, while Mobius may be commended for being first in his class, the underachievement of this group as a whole is enough to make even high school teach

Gabe Kotter

wince.

The average fund in the emerging market category has had a

negative

29.9% return this year through Dec. 17, according to

Lipper

. That figure handily trails the

S&P 500's

positive return of 23.4% during the same period. And Mobius' three funds tracked by Lipper have returned an average return of negative 20.8% through Dec. 18.

In fairness, the Mobius award wasn't really about the numbers. According to the Franklin release, it was based instead on the results of a survey among emerging market professionals who said Mobius knows a whole bunch about emerging markets

and

returns their phone calls.

Perhaps next time

Reuters

should survey fund shareholders.

Slicing and Dicing

Here's a distinction that was so tortured it took four tries by the folks at the $4.2 billion

(KAUFX) - Get Report

Kaufmann fund to get it right (albeit after

TSC

questioned them on it.)

In its ubiquitous ads for the fund, Kaufmann earlier this year boasted that its fund was the "No. 1 General Equity Fund," for the last 10 years. Not a bad claim. But in June, stronger funds knocked it off its pedestal. No problem. Kaufmann simply adjusted its claim downward to being the No. 1

small company

fund for the past 10 years. When that hallowed designation also proved fleeting, Kaufmann changed the title again in September to the "No. 1 Diversified Fund Since the Market Low of 1987."

But those ads

simply weren't true. Oops. Improper calculations were to blame, Kaufmann told

TSC

. Kaufmann's solution? Numero Uno once again, with the succinct, 17-syllable slogan of "No. 1 Small Company Aggressive Growth Fund Since the Market Low."

It's poetry in motion.

It's How You Play the Game

Perhaps the only more

absurd attempt at claiming to be best was that of a

Warburg Pincus

ad, which boasted of its

No. 4

spot for its $36.2 million

(WPJGX)

Japan Growth fund for one year through Sept. 30. Not only was it trumpeting the fact that it was in

fourth place

(which, last time we checked, couldn't win you a medal at the Olympics), the fund's return was negative 14.4% during that period. Its peers, however, did post an average negative return of 23.3%.

Tech Tweaks

Tech also featured well among the Absurdity Awards, in large part because there seem to be even more obscure tech publications and groups than awards that they give out.

Among the more obscure: "Best Packaged Application Category," presented to

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

from

Intelligent Enterprise

magazine for, of course, Oracle's packaged applications.

Then there was the "Test Product of the Year Award" that went to

National Instrument's

(NATI) - Get Report

LabView 5.0, from the editors of

Test and Measurement World

.

And in a first this year, the "WideBand Cable of the Year Award" went to

Prestolite Wire's

NetLInk 2000R UTP cable from

WideBand

.

This last product deserves a special distinction, having beat out 50 other cables from all across North America to pick up its laurels.

Now that's impressive.

Don't forget the "Best of What's New Award" to

Hughes Global Services

(

GMH:NYSE) from

Popular Science

magazine. The company got it for its attempt at salvaging an errant communications satellite by whipping it around the moon.

According to a press release, when the satellite's orbit got out of whack, the original company that launched it wrote it off on its insurance as a complete loss. But then Hughes came along, and after securing title to the satellite, used lunar gravity to whip it around the moon and get it back on track in a usable orbit. With the problem solved, Hughes promptly smacked a For Sale sign on the satellite and is currently looking for a buyer.

If nothing else, we think the company at least deserves the

"Most Creative Ploy to Make a Buck off of Someone Else's Loss Award."

But

Popular Science

beat us to it.

Keeping Dry

Finally, there's "The 1998 Breakthrough Product of the Year" from the

International Network of Golf

.

You would think that this prestigious award would go to a golf club or golf cart or golf bag or, at the very least, to a golf ball.

This year's watershed product? An umbrella.

The

Gustbuster Umbrella

, to be exact. Manufactured by

Innovention Enterprises

of Farmingdale, N.Y., Gustbusters are the high-tech, ultradurable rain shedders that are "guaranteed to withstand winds up to 55 mph without turning inside out." Each comes with a lifetime guarantee.

The fact that an umbrella won in the golf category just goes to prove the old adage -- and your mother -- right: "If you're gonna be an umbrella, you ought to be the best darn umbrella there is."

Did we miss any absurd awards?

Send in your favorite absurd investment accolades, with your full name.