Maven: How the Press Pressure Oil

The media are creating a trend once again. Plus, CEOs in the hot seat and short attention spans.
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The week is only starting and The Business Press Maven finds himself crying aloud and sobbing convulsively thanks to the way the business media are already misleading you, the investor. Please pay attention, or you'll be paying with losses.

A trend is not supposed to make the news, right? The news is supposed to make the trend. In other words, things swaying this way or that doesn't mean it should dictate the direction of what the news media are writing. Actual, substantive events plus an educated sense of the future should do that.

Confused enough yet?

Just look at the way, when oil was $75-$80 a barrel, the business media came out with countless articles quoting experts saying oil was going to $100. The final punctuation mark, as The Business Press Maven

pointed out, was the business media's blaming the whole thing on speculators, who buy futures contracts (yes, those same futures speculators who give the market liquidity and, it needs to be noted, have been hurt worse than anyone these past few months).

Now that oil prices seem to be plunging through time and space? We'll eventually get around to blaming those speculators, y'know -- the ones who short futures contracts. That'll be when we know we are at a low. But for now, we're starting to get articles like this tub of goo from the Associated Press that appeared Sunday: "

Analysts Expect Further Commodities Drop

"

That's right: Just as the upward trend recently shaped the news, now the downward trend is doing the trick. Reporters were, just a few months ago, rounding up analysts who were throwing around $100; now, well, I don't need to tell you how low they are going.

Get a load of this first sentence:

Commodities had a miserable third quarter and many on Wall Street say they have further to fall. That theory was bolstered last week as oil prices sunk to their lowest level for the year.

This theoretical article was written Sunday, which means any theory it exposes can, of course, be bolstered by events that just passed.

Make no mistake about it; as The Business Press Maven has said, oil prices were way overdone. It is high time they came lower.

But part of the reason they were overdone was poorly constructed articles about the market for oil going to $100, making investors salivate and make mistakes. Here's what you need to look out for going forward: story lines blaming speculators for the fall. That's when you'll know for certain that a bottom has been reached.

A bottom of sorts has been reached this morning, at least for the best HMO executive in the business. William McGuire, CEO and now former chairman of

UnitedHealth

(UNH) - Get Report

is

stepping down, the latest casualty not of a heartless HMO that wasn't generous enough to pay for treatment but an HMO that was too generous in paying for backdated options.

About 30 senior executives have now bitten the dust in the backdating scandal, but McGuire is, in The Business Press Maven's steel trap of a mind, the best to be felled.

From management backdating options, let's trudge over to the topic of management-led buyouts. Shareholders who own companies that are bought out by management usually don't complain. The campers are happy pocketing any sort of premium. But in the same story in which The Business Press Maven was turned haggard by the blame-the-speculator canard, I also raised an eyebrow at the

Kinder Morgan

(KMI) - Get Report

leveraged buyout, making fun of the prospect of a CEO negotiating with himself to take a company private. Kudos then to

The Star-Ledger

for picking up on this idea this morning,

examining the conflicted role of management in this situation

.

Shareholders, heed The Business Press Maven: Hold out for better premiums by holding management's conflicted feet to the fire.

An

interesting article

in

Forbes

on retailers brings up a question that has yet to be asked about Hollywood.

At a recent retail conference in New York, focus turned to the challenge of enticing customers in a world of infinite choices. The solution: Limit the choices. Choices, this sound bit of thinking goes, can benefit, but they can also confuse and turn customers hesitant and regretful.

Dial it down is the basic solution, and one wonders why few in the business media mention this too-much issue when it comes to Hollywood. Granted, as in the case of newspapers, Hollywood had enormous distribution advantages and is adjusting to a world in which it has few.

But how about the idea of reining it in a bit, to attract a customer addled with choice and time constraints?

The Departed

, Martin Scorsese's uneven new crime drama, is already slipping. It got some good reviews, but is more than 2 1/2 hours long and buzz

hasn't been as good as the reviews

.

With audiences' short concentration spans and plenty of choice, why isn't Hollywood, with all its troubles, considering tighter offerings? The emerging competition in terms of distribution, from big-screen televisions to video on demand, has been well documented and is a stiffer challenge.

But with all the trends toward shorter attention spans and more options in society, can a kids movie like

Cars

really go about two hours and lead investors to think there is any meaningful future for the industry? With that in mind, The Business Press Maven is going to cut his column short.

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.