1. Buy! Buy More! No, Wait a Minute -- Sell! Sell!
In case you haven't picked up on it, Wall Streeters often ridicule individual investors. The expression "retail investor," as used by stock market commentators -- and reporters -- is usually a euphemism for "some dodo with an E*Trade account who's getting investment advice from a Magic 8-Ball."
Behind the snootiness is the assumption that Wall Street professionals make wise, well-reasoned and visionary decisions. They eschew fads. They see the big picture.
Like hell they do!
This week's fickle, flighty institutional investor: Credit Suisse First Boston. After snapping up the investment bank Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette in 2000, CSFB spent $39 million this year to rebrand its DLJdirect online trading unit as CSFBdirect. In August it bought out CSFBdirect public shareholders for $110 million in a deal valuing the online broker at nearly $650 million.
And on Wednesday CSFB said it was selling CSFBdirect to Bank of Montreal for $520 million.
If that's CSFB's idea of a strategic vision, hand me that Magic 8-Ball, would you?
2. Upromise to Visit Your Pediatric Cardiologist?
College is good. But we're just a little worried about what
wants people to do to get there.
That's because on Monday, the restaurant chain announced it was partnering with Upromise, a new company that's a cross between a frequent-flyer program and a college savings account.
Here's how Upromise works: When Mom, Dad or the kids buy something from participating companies like McDonald's or
, they'll get part of the purchase price refunded into a special Upromise savings account.
Well, that's great. What could be more noble than a college education? Just try not to work out the math behind Ronald McDonald's contribution to your tyke's Harvard bill.
Would You Like to SuperSize That Education?
Sources: McDonald's, Detox.
Here are the ugly details: Spend $5 on a specially marked McDonald's gift certificate, and you get 15 cents back for tuition. Hmmm. Let's say you want Mickey D's to pony up $100 for college -- enough to buy, say, a dozen pencils for a member of the future Class of 2016. For that kind of refund, you'll have to buy $3,333 worth of gift certificates. And that sum works out to -- get ready -- one small order of fries for your child every day for the next nine years.
At that rate, college tuition will be the least of your worries. More likely you'll be saving for that forklift you'll need to carry Junior off to school.
3. Well, That Should Be an Awkward Company Christmas Party
Can a cultural divide between two companies damn a merger to failure?
AOL Time Warner
better hope not.
But the company will soon find out, following the deal announced Monday to purchase Christian music company Word Entertainment from
Pardon us for noticing, but hasn't it occurred to anyone that the transaction will test the loyalty of some of Word's customers? After all, a cornerstone of AOL Time Warner's revenue -- for this year and for eons to come -- is the Harry Potter movie franchise. And if there's any cultural influence that
certain Christian parents condemn as ungodly, it's Harry Potter.
Maybe Word Entertainment customers won't worry about their Point of Grace CDs and their church's hymnals and choral music being sullied by the House of Harry. (Gaylord and AOL Time Warner say the issue never came up.)
Richard Abanes, a Christian musician and author of
Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick
, doesn't think that most consumers pay attention to media mergers and acquisitions.
But Rusty Benson, associate editor of the
American Family Association's
, isn't so sure. It's difficult for any distinctly Christian company, he says, to operate in a traditional corporate atmosphere. "On top of everything else, there's now an additional, obvious conflict between a company like Time Warner -- who would be marketing a controversial Harry Potter movie -- and the same company trying to market Christian music," says Benson. "It certainly makes the waters murky, doesn't it?"
Don't be surprised if things get hairy.
4. Adieu, Enron, Ron, Adieu Enron
Consumers like you want value this holiday season. You're shopping at discount stores. You want more for your money.
Well, we're giving you more. But first, some background.
Here at the Five Dumbest Things research lab, we especially love two types of Dumb Things. One is useless Wall Street research reports. Our other fave is tidbits about the meltdown of
, the energy trading firm with
oily accounting statements well-parsed by
very own Peter Eavis.
So here's today's treat: an Enron item and a dumb-analyst-call item
all rolled into one!
On Wednesday morning UBS Warburg analyst Ronald Barone downgraded Enron from strong buy to hold. This advice to ditch Enron -- a huge help if you hadn't noticed its stock sliding from $85 to $4 over the past year -- came the very morning that Enron's debt got downgraded to junk, Dynegy called off its purchase of the company, and Enron's shares started selling for less than a gallon of gas.
To his credit, Barone admitted in print the futility of the downgrade, calling it "after the fact and more of a symbolic call at these levels." Sheepishness like that is in short supply among Wall Street wolves.
5. No Tongue-Tied Ted Today
Yes, we know this is another item about AOL Time Warner, so we could be lumping it together with Dumb Thing No. 3. But Ted Turner is in a class by himself.
Ted, who once -- relevant to DT No. 3 -- called Christianity a religion for losers, has spoken judiciously again. According to
Broadcasting & Cable Magazine, the lame-duck vice chairman of AOL Time Warner is suffering serious seller's regret about the 1997 sale of the Turner Broadcasting System to the former Time Warner.
"My advice to younger people in the room is be real careful who you sell your company to," Turner said in a Wednesday lunchtime speech. If you wanted Turner to praise the company at which he's spent the past few years, you showed up at the wrong lunch.
Griping about his treatment at the hands of AOL Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin, Turner recalled a conversation in which Levin said, "'Ted, you're my best friend.'"
Continued Turner, "I said, 'I'm your best friend? Jerry, I've never been in your home. If I'm your best friend, who's your second-best friend?'"
If you ask us, it's probably the friend that keeps Ted away from lunchtime speaking engagements.
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