The University of North Carolina's Journalism School came forth with a ranking of the
10-best business journalism critics and The Business Press Maven was ranked Number 1. With characteristic humbleness, I just want to say: good call! And thank you very much.
Now, going forward with the onus of a champion, I will get back to the important business of tearing the business media a new one so you, the investor, do not get confused, misled or financially knee-capped.
On the subject of knee caps, let's talk about what the recent nationwide heat wave has done to retail sales. Well, what has it done to retail sales, business media? Do tell. The answers, given this week when July sales were reported, went all over the place to such a degree that The Business Press Maven would have been laughing if he hadn't been too busy crying.
I can pick on almost anyone -- so let's start at the beginning of the alphabet with the
. They told us that worried retailers got a reprieve in July, "scoring solid gains as searing heat in much of the country sent consumers back into the stores in search of summer clothes."
Walking this line of thought, you have to believe that people sitting at home in the comfort of central air suddenly rushed out into the heat in order to get tank-tops, whereupon, mission complete, they returned to the comfort of their central air.
From that idea in the lead, we are then warned later on in the story not to over interpret the month, because it's one of the least important on the retailing calendar, one in which stores are cleared out to make room for fall lines. Next, an economist told us that high temperatures can be both good and bad for retail.
I think I'm getting heat stroke.
Speaking of heat stroke, in the middle of the alphabet,
was telling us this in a headline: "Blazing temperatures damage July retail sales."
Remember that lead about people rushing out to shop for summer clothes. Here's
: "Scorching temperatures throughout much of the country kept consumers indoors in the final weeks of July, but strength in the first two weeks helped many of the biggest retailers turn in robust sales."
Wait, does L come before M? Whoops. Because in the lead to its article, "Retail Sales Better Than Expected," the
Los Angeles Times
had something else altogether: "Retailers logged sales that were generally better than expected in July as temperatures sizzled and shoppers picked up summertime bargains while cooling themselves in malls."
Got that? It wasn't the cool clothes, but the cool malls.
Meanwhile, over by Z,
The Washington Post
reported that the new guys at
, who had been critical of old management's way of blaming the weather every which way for this and that, spent a conference call citing "all manner of meteorological phenomena while discussing the companies second-quarter loss. Rains flooded the East Coast. A heat wave engulfed Dallas and Oklahoma City, which had 15 consecutive days of three-digit temperatures."
Now that we know our ABCs. ... Look, without divine intervention, management will never stop blaming the weather for bad results. (It's interesting, isn't it, that management less frequently credits the weather for better results.) But it is the media's job not to parrot management's claims.
Bad stenographers, bad!
That's why I'm giving out the dreaded Business Press Maven "Back of the Hand" award to half of the business reporters out there this week. And I'll give my coveted "Nod of Approval" to a goofy little segment on
, long a quality operation, reported disappointing sales and had a weather-related explanation that twisted anyone who listened into a nasty knot. In sum: The hot weather hurt sales because it helped sell more cold drinks, which take longer to make than hot ones. Lines grew too long for the cold, hurting the hot.
If I missed anything, please don't blame me. Only a Mensa member could follow this logic train. That's when
went out with a camera and its tongue planted firmly in cheek to time how long it takes to make cold drinks. Lo and behold it does take longer. So could that really have hurt sales that much? (I think rising costs caused people to cut back on $9 Joes.) Well, maybe. Who knows?
But the point is, rather than parroting management's claim, they put it to some sort of test and, heaven forbid, had a little fun in the process. And they didn't try to put a one-size fits all explanation (heat helped, heat hurt) onto what is becoming increasingly clear with retail stocks: In a more challenging though not disastrous environment, if you hit the mark with your goods (
, etc.) you can still do OK. Look adrift, like
, and -- well, not a lot of customers will come, whatever the temperature.
And with that, I'll flounce off into the heat.
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 website 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.