1. Sayonara Sino-Forest
Sucked dry by the alleged scamsters at
? Still holding the bag after hedge fund guru John Paulson goaded you into that piece of garbage? Well, if that's the case, here's some cheery news: Allen Chan is no longer the company's top man.
The Toronto-based operator of commercial forest plantations in China announced Sunday the voluntary resignation of Chan as its CEO and chairman until the company can complete an investigation of fraud allegations made by muckraking short-seller Muddy Waters. Shares of Sino-Forest, as quoted over-the-counter on the
, closed Friday at $1.38, down 70%, on volume of more than 15 million.
The stock closed at $18.64 on June 1, the day before Muddy slapped Sino-Forest with a strong sell rating, characterizing the company as a "multi-billion dollar ponzi scheme." The controversy has ensnared a number of high profile investors, including billionaire money manager John Paulson - yes, he of
The Greatest Trade Ever
fame - who lost hundreds of millions before bailing out.
Sino-Forest named William Ardell, its lead director and chairman of the independent committee, to serve as chairman, and Judson Martin, executive director and vice chairman, to serve as CEO. Hilariously, the company appointed Chan its "Founding Chairman Emeritus" - whatever that means - and said that Chan will be assisting the committee with its review.
Really? Allen Chan is investigating the slimy goings-on at Sino-Forest? That's a laugh. Maybe in his spare time he can help O.J. Simpson find his wife's killer.
News of Chan stepping down comes after the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) ordered suspension of trading in the stock on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Friday morning. The regulator, which says its own probe of Sino-Forest has raised questions about its accounting and potential misrepresentation of revenue, initially called for the resignation of Chan and other executives on Friday but later rescinded that request.
"The allegations made in the OSC's temporary order, while unproven, are of a serious nature," Sino-Forest said in a statement, adding later: "In these circumstances, the Independent Committee has not yet reached any conclusions."
Don't worry guys. The market has already come to its own conclusion about your company. Clearly it ain't pretty. And as for our buddy Chan, Sino-Forest amusingly said he "expressed his willingness to step aside" even before the OSC issued its order.
That's just rich, especially how they make Chan seem noble for wanting to get as far away from this mess as possible. But seriously, have you ever heard of a suspect who actually wants to hang around when the police are investigating a crime scene?
No? Neither have we.
4. Hurd's Elephant-Sized Package
While thousands of poor Hurricane Irene victims spent last weekend bailing buckets of water from their basements, one very rich CEO was in sunny California counting the buckets of money in his bank account.
According to a regulatory filing on Friday, former
CEO and now
co-president Mark Hurd collected severance and pay totaling more than $120 million in the past year. Oracle said Hurd got a pay package worth an estimated $78.4 million in the most recent fiscal year, a sum that comes on top of the $42.2 million Hurd pocketed on his way out of HP. In his last full year at HP, Hurd's pay package was estimated to be $24.2 million.
Not bad for a guy who got sent packing after a sexual harassment investigation found him fudging expense reports. Don't you think?
For those who have forgotten, a disgraced Hurd was pushed out of HP last year after its board determined that he didn't violate the company's harassment policy, but did inappropriately conceal a personal relationship with his accuser, Jodie Fisher, a former B-movie actress who handled executive events for the company. In the end, Hurd and Fisher settled out of court with Hurd calling his exit "a painful decision for me to make."
Turns out it was not painful at all for Hurd. In fact, Marky-Mark made quite a bunch.
Not only was he inexplicably allowed to keep all that HP dough, but by jumping to Oracle, he even out-earned his new boss, Larry Ellison. All-in, Hurd's compensation for his first full year at Oracle trumped that of Ellison who received a salary of $1, a $13.3 million bonus, $1.5 million in miscellaneous compensation and got stock options worth an estimated $62.7 million.
We don't know how Ellison is dealing with Hurd having the bigger package. We know he likes having the largest mast in the marina, but we suspect he will let this pass because it's only a one-year thing. Also, shares of Oracle are up 13.5% since Hurd's arrival a year ago this week while HP's shares have crashed 25%, so Larry must think he's gotten a pretty good deal in hiring his old pal Mark.
Of course, a quick review of HP's health following Hurd's departure quickly revealed that he may not be the best manager over the long run. Hurd supposedly starved HP's vaunted R&D division so badly during his five-year tenure that its latest CEO, Leo Apotheker, is now smashing the company apart in order to rebuild it as a software giant.
Yep, hurricane Mark demolished HP and now he is collecting the insurance money. Big time.
3. Nissan's Fast One
Oh boy did
look dumb during its Camry sedan roll-out.
Toyota obviously has a lot riding on this next-generation launch with plans to crank it out in huge volumes over the coming years. Considering that's the automaker's strategy, one might expect Toyota would have covered all its bases before unveiling the model last week. Alas, that was not the case as Toyota was beaten to the Tweet by rival Nissan.
According to Monday's
, Nissan North America outflanked Toyota by acquiring the word "Camry" on social media service Twitter prior to the big launch. As a result, anybody searching Twitter for information about Toyota's cool new Camry during the launch was treated instead to a tweet of product news from rival Nissan. Nissan's marketing team pulled off the prank by purchasing what Twitter calls a "Promoted Tweet", acquiring a selection of search terms for a single day that included "Camry," "Toyota Camry" and "mid-sized car."
Nicely done Nissan! That was one heck of a hoax. We must admit that we didn't think you had that crafty streak in you. Maybe next year you can steal
homecoming float or go on a panty raid and steal
CEO Alan Mulally's underwear.
Well, maybe that's going a little too far, but Nissan certainly needs to be at its most creative to compete against Toyota's segment-leading sedan. U.S. sales of Nissan's Altima are up more than 18% through July, compared with an 8% drop for the Camry, says Automotive News. That's good news for Nissan, although the development is in large part due to inventory problems resulting from the March 11 Japanese earthquake.
Nissan has a long road ahead to catch Toyota, but they certainly deserve credit this time for pulling a fast one on their rival.
2. Bill's Sorry Apology
Somebody at PIMCO better put a muzzle on bond-king Bill Gross. He may be a savvy guy, but lately he can't stop saying silly things to reporters.
Gross, who manages the $244 billion
PIMCO Total Return Fund
The World's Largest Bond Fund
, admitted this week to various press outfits that he screwed up by betting against the price of US government debt. Gross has been warning investors for months that U.S. Treasuries are a bad investment due to the risk of rising inflation and poor fiscal fundamentals by the U.S. Government, even as the yield of the benchmark 10 year Treasury Note went to 2.2% this week from 3.3% at the start of 2011. (For those baffled by bonds: Prices move in the opposite direction to bond yields.)
By avoiding and even shorting Treasuries, Gross' fund has returned 3.3% year-to-date, putting it in
88th percentile for Intermediate-Term bond funds. The fund's recent relative poor performance still hasn't dented Gross' impressive long-term returns, however. Over the past 10 years, the fund has returned an average of 6.4% annually, outpacing 91% of its peers.
"Do I wish I had more Treasuries? Yeah, that's pretty obvious," Gross told the
last week. "I get that it was my/our mistake in thinking that the US economy can chug along at 2% real growth rates. It doesn't look like it can."
And at the next stop in his mea culpa tour, Gross informed the good folks at the
Wall Street Journal
that he has "lost sleep" over his performance. He also explained his decision to reverse course and add U.S. Government bonds to his portfolio over the past few months, saying: "It's not necessarily a flip flop, as we don't own tons of Treasuries, but it's a recognition that the U.S. and developed economies are near the recessionary dividing point."
Oh come on. What's next, going on Dr. Phil to bemoan your TIPS position? Blubbering to Barbara Walters over your inflation outlook?
Man up Bill! You were Morningstar's bond fund manager of the decade dammit! Snap out of it.
Look, nobody knows better than you that this business can make fools out of Wall Street's smartest people over the short term. That's what bubbles do. They make brilliant people look like look like idiots until they pop. And usually they don't pop until the same smart people admit they look like idiots. And "we are all dead" anyway in the long run, to quote famed economist John Maynard Keynes, so we don't know why you are getting all hissy about a one-year blip anyway.
With that in mind, we suggest you take our advice big guy. If you really think that Treasuries are still in bubble mode, then stick with it. Double down on your bets if you have to. But don't start playing catch-up to appease the indexers and apologizing to a bunch of hacks for one crappy year.
You may not be knocking the cover off the ball. But you're also not losing gobs of investor money every year like fellow Mutual Fund-god-turned-goat Bill Miller over at
At least not yet.
1. Stephenson's Stupidity
Based on the fact that our solitary mission is to scour Wall Street for Dumb Things each week, we here at the Lab readily admit that it does not take much to insult our intelligence. And we would not argue with those who accuse us of being overly sensitive to even the slightest bit of corporate stupidity.
Hey, it's a Dumb job, but somebody's got to do it.
T-Mobile unit really could have tried harder to avoid raising our antennae with their ridiculous "jobs" announcement. Don't you think?
You see, even before U.S. regulators moved to block the pair's $39 billion proposed merger Wednesday, we were wowed by the audacity - and the outright inanity - of the telecom giants' last-minute bribe of promising 5,000 new U.S. jobs to help gain support for the deal.
"At a time when many Americans are struggling and our economy faces significant challenges, we're pleased that the T-Mobile merger allows us to bring 5,000 jobs back to the United States and significantly increase our investment here," AT&T Chairman and Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said in a statement.
As to where those jobs were going to be located, Stephenson didn't offer the slightest clue. As to how he plans to make this merger profitable by adding instead of cutting workers, he didn't say. And as to why those jobs were sent away in the first place, not a word. Nevertheless, sounding like the desperate politicians he was clearly trying to appeal to, Stephenson did promise the combined company would offer "highly competitive wages and benefits."
Jeez! Good old Randy could not be more transparent if he was made of glass. And after a boneheaded ploy like that, maybe the Uncle Sam made a smart move in keeping this guy from gaining control over the largest wireless phone service in the country.
Yep, good job boys. But don't get cocky now. You know how temperamental we can be.
Written by Gregg Greenberg in New York.
Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.