So Much for Consumer Products' Earnings Consistency - TheStreet

Tuesday Thwack:

Colgate calamity?

Actually, you could say the whole consumer products group has just gone through the month from hell, with almost every major company, other than

Kimberly-Clark

(KMB) - Get Report

, disclosing earnings that weren't quite up to par. (Does

Newell Rubbermaid

(NWL) - Get Report

ring a bell?)

So, why shine the light on

Colgate-Palmolive

(CL) - Get Report

? Because an item

here back in October suggested that the company's fundamentals were showing signs of stress. (The company, of course, disputed that notion, but I digress.) Then, late Thursday, Colgate announced what, on the surface, appeared to be blockbuster fourth-quarter earnings. According to

every

headline I read, the company either "beat estimates," "exceeded expectations" or "topped consensus estimates."

Ah, but did it really? Not quite, which is why, despite supposedly beating estimates, Colgate's stock skidded 6% on Friday, and barely budged Monday. Seems that after taking a closer look at the numbers, analysts realized the tax rate and interest expenses were also lower than expected, which means -- all things being equal -- the company really just met estimates. Put another way, the quality of those earnings wasn't quite up to quantity. And when you're a highflier (in its world) like Colgate, quality is as important as quantity.

So, a group known for earnings consistency is now showing earnings inconsistency. Why? Any number of reasons, but this much is certain: Earnings consistency has helped the group trade at a pretty big premium to the

Standard & Poor's 500

. As of the fourth quarter, however, that earnings-consistency theme may be out the window.

Herb's Latest: Join the discussion on

TSC Message Boards .

Lernahooligan alert:

Yowza!

Lernout & Hauspie

(LHSP)

is up 18 9/16, or nearly 31%, on

no news

. (The company's press-release machine does seem to be working overtime these days.) Based on my email, the Lernahooligans are chuckling unmercifully at anybody who dared question the company.

And the shorts? They're singing the same old song: Lernout keeps missing earnings estimates, analysts keep cutting numbers and yet the stock keeps going higher -- a case where two plus two is supposed to equal four, but it really doesn't.

Amazon antics:

No need to go on and on about the company's announcement Monday that it will issue $600 million in euro-denominated converts. (Plenty already written everywhere about it.)

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

is the underwriter -- yep, the same Morgan Stanley whose very own

Mary Meeker

on Friday wrote: "Call us melodramatic? Go ahead. But we continue to maintain that

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

may be on its way to becoming one of the greatest companies of our day ... no doubt, there's still a chance that they screw the whole thing up ... but after the CQ4 financial results and C2000 outlook, we are more calmed about Amazon.com's business outlook than we ever have been. Happy New Year!"

Happy New Year, indeed, especially with

those

underwriting fees!

Speaking of which, reader

Joe Beattie

writes: "Two weeks ago it was

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

, last week it was Amazon." He's referring to comments

here questioning the legitimacy of some analyst recommendations. Specifically, he cited short-seller Jim Chanos' comment, the one in which he said, "Some sell-side analysts are selling their credibility down the river to see one more investment banking fee."

"Are you saying," Joe wonders, "that all these people/firms are liars?"

Let's just say that when it comes to underwriting fees vs. telling it the way it is, Wall Street analysts have been known to look the other way when it comes to bad news.

Herb Greenberg writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, though he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at

herb@thestreet.com. Greenberg also writes a monthly column for Fortune.

Mark Martinez assisted with the reporting of this column.