1. Crazy Dimon
Jamie Dimon, the CEO of
, appears to be channeling Carrie Nation -- the turn-of-the century temperance brute who roamed the country with a Bible in one hand and a hatchet in the other.
How else can you explain who Dimon is blaming for the demise of Bear Stearns?
In an appearance on
"Charlie Rose Show" that aired Monday, Dimon blasted Wall Street gossips for wantonly destroying Bear Stearns, ultimately enabling JPMorgan Chase to buy the troubled brokerage in a fire sale.
"Where there is smoke, there's fire," Dimon told Rose of the rumors he believes contributed to Bear's precipitous decline. "I think the
Securities and Exchange Commission
should investigate it, OK? I think if someone knowingly starts a rumor or passes on a rumor, they should go to jail."
Dimon's talking about some of his Wall Street brethren, not about high-school cheerleaders, but that's a strong choice of words. Such
financial publications as
have recently floated the theory that mean-spirited short-sellers deliberately spread word around the campfire that Bear was failing. Those theories, while compelling, remain unconfirmed.
On the other hand, what is confirmed is that two Bear execs, Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin, ran two Bear hedge funds that were the centerpiece of the credit crunch's opening act in the summer of 2007. The funds lost about $1.6 billion in investor money through bad bets on subprime mortgages.
Cioffi and Tannin were arrested June 19 on allegations of securities fraud, conspiracy and wire fraud. Federal prosecutors say that Cioffi and Tannin were aware of the weakness in their funds' assets as early as March 2007 but failed to disclose the dire situation to clients. The feds believe that actual deception on the part of Bear itself warrants criminal prosecution.
Although Nation campaigned for temperance, she would have snapped up Dimon as a protégé based on his zeal. Get a load of what else Dimon said to Rose:
Spreading rumors is even worse than insider trading. This is deliberate and malicious destruction of value and people's lives," Dimon said.
Yo, Jamie. Considering that you landed the deal of the century, we think that it is
who should keep your trap shut. Shout hallelujah, brothers and sisters!
Dumb-o-meter score: 95. Jamie Dimon has buyer's remorse. Pass it on.
2. Steve & Barry Lose Their Shirts
Much to the chagrin of Sarah Jessica Parker, Stephon Marbury, Venus Williams and
, Steve & Barry's, a mall-based vendor of dirt-cheap shirts and shoes, has proven to be a colossal bust.
The defunct shirt-selling duo have left GE, which lent S&B nearly $200 million in March, grieving. The
Sex and the City
star, the basketball phenom and the Wimbledon champ, whose signature clothing lines survive the store that sells them, will probably need a mourning period as well.
After Steve & Barry flirted with
in hopes of a bailout or sale of some of its labels (these are hard times indeed when anyone goes hat in hand to Sears), the company filed for bankruptcy Wednesday, blaming liquidity trouble.
Paradoxically, sales had been booming at $1.1 billion annually -- and same-store sales were growing at 20%. A shocked lawyer for Parker told
The New York Times
, "We are surprised because our understanding, based on the accounting statements we see, was that sales have been very, very strong."
It's too bad, for the sake of Steve, Barry, and "Carrie," that a pesky little item called "costs" separates the top line from the bottom. Steve & Barry's tried to bail out its business by undercutting retail titan
, selling many of its items below cost. It also offered its Stephon Marbury signature sneaker at a reduced price of $8.98, vs. a previous, exorbitant $14.98.
Steve & Barry's hope that customers would buy at least some higher-margin items once in the store, unfortunately, proved most unfounded. Now, celebrities will have to find another outlet for cheapo goods bearing their names.
Dumb-o-meter score: 93. We're hoping for some bargains at Steve & Barry's "going out of business" sale. Oh, wait. That was the business model.
3. Marriott: Pretty Vacant
Even as Wall Street has been bubbling with talk of a battered and fried consumer, an oblivious
kept building its hotel empire in a weak economic environment. Supply quickly outstripped demand, leaving Marriott with more uninhabited rooms than the Bates Motel after a bad night.
The severity of Marriott's missteps became apparent Thursday when it reported a 24% year-over-year drop in second-quarter earnings. Adjusted earnings beat Wall Street's lowered expectations, but gloomy guidance sent the stock spelunking to levels unseen since 2004.
CEO J.W. Marriott Jr. said that "business conditions have deteriorated" in the U.S. market, and he expects "weak economic growth and soft lodging demand" to continue into 2009. Apparently, the notion that people forego vacations when they're feeling a pinch in the pocketbook eluded Marriott.
In fairness, the hotelier's revenue per available room -- known in industry lingo as revpar -- increased 5.6% globally, thanks to healthier markets in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Unfortunately for Marriott, though, most of its hotels are stateside, where revpar grew a meager 1.4%.
In an effort to right the ship, Chief Financial Officer Arne Sorensen outlined "contingency plans," including changes to the hotel's restaurant menus, hosting more banquet-style events to bolster non-room sales, hiring freezes and forced vacations for workers. All well and good, but those initiatives won't offer the company much headway with the extra empty rooms it now has to maintain.
Marriott could've benefited from a simple rule of business: If people don't want what you're selling, don't try to give them more of it.
Dumb-o-meter score: 91. When the going gets tough, the tough don't go on vacation.
4. Was the Air Force High?
In the heated competition between
and the team of
and Airbus parent --
European Aeronautic Defense and Space
-- the Air Force has proved a lousy referee.
Thanks to the Air Force's incompetence, Boeing got a second chance at a contract to supply the Pentagon with tanker planes that allow for midair refueling.
The military had previously awarded the tanker contract, worth $35 billion and the first in a series of deals potentially worth $100 billion, to Northrop and European Aeronautic Defense and Space. Boeing had grown accustomed to landing cushy government contracts, in part, because of a proud, longstanding U.S. tradition of keeping its weapons manufacturing on home soil. Boeing complained grumpily when the Air Force chose the Northrop-EADS team, which will build the planes' frames in Toulouse, France, then put on the finishing touches in Mobile, Ala.
Boeing scored a minor victory, then, when the Government Accountability Office last month said the Air Force's selection process contained "significant errors," including failure to address the minor question of whether the Northrop-EADS tanker would be capable of refueling all of the Air Force's planes.
The reopening of the tanker bid marks a further delay in replacing the Air Force's old tankers, which date back to the Eisenhower era. The military has been seeking new refueling planes since 2001.
Meanwhile, the armed forces carry out operations in Iraq and Afghanistan while Air Force pilots buzz around in junkers that are as old as their parents.
Dumb-o-meter score: 75. With any luck, the U.S. will still have some enemies to fight by the time someone lands this contract.
5. IndyMac's Race to the Bottom
climbed into its death bed Monday, but as the week wore on, it just wouldn't give up its ghost.
A feebler, and therefore less destructive, offspring of housing-market force of nature Countrywide Financial, IndyMac became the nation's largest originator of U.S. mortgages when
Bank of America
swallowed Countrywide earlier this year. As IndyMac can testify, being No. 1 ain't all gravy.
Late Monday, IndyMac announced that it was facing a liquidity crunch and regulators that believe it is no longer "well capitalized" and have asked the company to reformulate its business model.
In addition to firing employees, IndyMac also said it plans to cease most loan production, certainly a risky business model for a company that primarily originates loans.
On that news, shares of the penny stock plummeted a staggering 30%, or 33 cents, to close at 44 cents Tuesday. Friedman Billings Ramsay analyst Paul Miller cut his IndyMac price target to $0 from $1, and Standard & Poor's slashed IndyMac's credit rating to "CCC," which means junk, saying there may be more downgrades in the offing.
To make matters worse, IndyMac said the same day that its depositors were withdrawing cash at an "elevated pace."
As its stock languishes at around 31 cents as of Thursday's close (it traded at $30 a year ago), IndyMac is a mortgage lender that does not issue loans, and a bank whose depositors are fleeing. That's one knockout of a business model.
Dumb-o-meter score: 65. As a near-expired IndyMac lolls around dazed and empty, maybe one final knockout is just what it needs.
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