Maven: Watching the News Vacuum

On days when companies might want to bury news, stay alert.
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Why, you are probably asking, did the most loyal manservant of the investor, The Business Press Maven, brush off the effects of a tryptophan-induced coma to wake before dawn on one of the quietest business and news days of the year and write his column?

It is because this day is, somewhat perversely, anything but quiet. And a saavy investor has to realize this. In fact, for any good investor who wants to avoid letting bad news slip by them unnoticed, a day like today should be one to redouble efforts to read, watch and listen, even as you overdose on that cold, leftover tryptophan.

Before we get to some examples of attempts to bury bad news, keep this in mind for the upcoming Christmas holiday too, even on the big day itself. It was on Christmas Day of 1992, after all, when The Business Press Maven, then a young, dashingly handsome Wall Streeter but an ingénue when it came to realizing how the press could be played like a fiddle, nearly had to be resuscitated on Christmas morning when he saw headlines -- which few were going to bother reading -- about how the first President Bush had pardoned major Iran-Contra figures who were about to go to trial and even some who had been found guilty.

How was that for an uneventful day? I turned to the business page and -- well, raise my rent -- there was plenty of bad or controversial news buried there too.

Which brings back to the future. Or at least, uh, to today. Is there a possibility that some of this news I see around me hit up when it did randomly? Well, sure. There's a mathematic possibility for anything -- even, I suppose, that The Business Press Maven will sprout antlers and become one of Santa's reindeer.

But let's call ourselves a touch skeptical.

As schoolkids were let out early on Wednesday and families hit the road, news started to pour forth that Kirk Kerkorian had been

selling a good portion of his stake in

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

.

Had the clever Kerkorian finally met his match? Was he going to dump his entire stake? Just use the gesture of the sale to ratchet up the pressure on GM's management so they might, miraculously, save the rest of his investment? Was clever Kirk going to buy back stock eventually, like he had in the past? Or was this it? Was Kirk, maybe not so clever anymore, just giving up on GM for good? And if he was giving up, could you stick a fork in GM itself?

All these story lines, which were important but reflected badly on both GM and Not-So-Clever Kirk, were, fortunately for all involved, buried on Wednesday afternoon's wires and Thanksgiving Day reports. Few were read. The longer thought stories like

this one were buried in Friday's news, which is akin to burying something underground. By the time Monday rolls around, it'll be onto 100 different other stories, probably the 100 latest buyouts.

The Kirk-GM development will be long forgotten.

Clever Kirk, indeed.

Speaking of clever, if The Business Press Maven ran a company that had backdated options and I hadn't come clean yet, even after all this time, I'd time my admission for Thanksgiving. Oh, wait a minute! Look in

The Wall Street Journal.

Corinthian Colleges

(COCO)

, a for-profit education provider, apparently

backdates batches of options, including some dated just after the terror attacks of Sept. 11.

Remember that time? When everyone was scared and confused? Well, some executives, post-haste, took advantage. Corinthian, in its defense, said a review team found "no evidence of fraud or willful misconduct." I hope that is not the same review team that helps kids prepare for final exams, but the point is, who is around to dispute it?

Wait, there is more.

Monster Worldwide

(MNST) - Get Report

fired the company's general counsel because of option trouble. This comes after the company founder refused to be interviewed about backdating by a company-run review group and instead resigned. Dudes, you are busted. But not really. Who is going to find out about all this? People are off shopping today.

An important

EADS

meeting was scheduled for today (I was already suspicious) about its troubled Airbus division. Due to a sticky board split, the

meeting was canceled, and Airbus's deep problems will continue to exist in a state of arrested adolescence.

But who will know? If bad news is released and there is no one there to read it, was it really there?

Anyhow, this is all a long, snarky way of saying one thing: From issues of national significance to smarmy moves by the executives of companies you own, bad news comes on seemingly uneventful days like today. So keep your eyes peeled.

But most importantly, at the start of this holiday season, The Business Press Maven and his family want to wish you and your family the best for health, happiness and profits.

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.