1. Over in France, They Think Jerry Lewis Is a Genius
Indulge us here a minute and try to think back to that semester in college you spent studying abroad. Remember how some pathetic guy from your class hooked up with some local girl who spoke hardly any English?
You didn't think to yourself, "Wow, that classmate, whom I once perceived as a loser, is indeed a worldwide chick magnet."
What you thought was, "He's such a loser, the only way he can get a date is to go where people don't know enough English to figure out what a dork he is."
Those memories rushed back to us this week when, of all things, we received a brief note from a public relations executive at the stumbling telco supplier
Nortel, a Canada-based company that gets most of its dwindling revenue from the U.S., doesn't have many friends on Wall Street. Its stock is down 81% from its 52-week high. Analysts' consensus ranking for the company, according to Thomson Financial/First Call, is a little more than hold. U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, for example, initiated coverage this week with a lukewarm market perform.
So we were happy for Nortel, in a patronizing and pitying sort of way, when we read the research report that Nortel's PR guy forwarded to
ace telecom reporter Scott Moritz. "Thought you'd be interested in the following report," wrote the Nortel guy.
Shock of all shocks, the report, written by Tsvetan Kintisheff of Kintisheff Research, was a positive one. Kintisheff rates Nortel a short-term outperform and gives it a 12-month price target of $13, up about 70% from Thursday's prices. He compares Nortel favorably to other telco suppliers such as
Moritz was a little puzzled by one detail in the report: Namely, who the heck was Tsvetan Kintisheff? Moritz, who has been covering the telecom-equipment business for six years now, had never heard of him.
That's when Moritz saw the address on the research report: 186A Vitosha Blvd., Sofia.
That's Sofia. As in Bulgaria. As in Europe. As in 4,800 miles from Nortel's Toronto-area headquarters.
Yes. In order to find someone who will say something nice about Nortel, you have to travel at least seven time zones away.
Now, we have nothing against Kintisheff, with whom we chatted on the phone this week. He's a 25-year-old former philosophy student and money manager. He's been running a research-only shop for a year and a half now, selling his reports through Multex, First Call, Investext and his own Web site,
www.kr-equity.com. His work on Nortel seems diligent, well thought-out and plausible.
Meanwhile, in Tanzania, we're tracking down an analyst we hear is bullish on Lucent.
2. You Don't Even Want to Know About Bulgarian Leva
Speaking of vital financial research emanating from distant shores, we learned this from the FDT satellite research facility in Madrid: Please Don't Eat the Euro.
Yes, in a startling disclosure that reeks of don't-try-this-at-home warnings, European Central Bank board member Eugenio Domingo Solans told
that the new euro bills, introduced Jan. 1 in 12 European countries, can be harmful to your health. If you eat them.
More specifically, something in the ink on euro bills will make you sick if you ingest the notes, says the banker. But don't worry: It's toxic only at the level you'd hit by eating 400 notes.
Since we're a research lab, we wanted to verify Domingo Solans' statement. Human testing is out of the question -- not because it's unethical or dangerous, mind you, but because it's too expensive: 400 five-euro notes, the smallest-denomination paper euro in circulation, would cost about $1,760.
So instead, we bought a rat -- imported specially from a lab animal breeder in England -- so we could feed a proportionately smaller number of euro notes.
Unfortunately, the plan backfired. The rat we got won't start accepting euros for at least two years.
3. And Any Day Now They'll Be Going After That Charles Ponzi Guy
In case you're interested, the weather today in hell is about 28 degrees Fahrenheit (14, if you count the chill factor). Cloudy with a chance of snow.
Yes, it's unseasonably cool down there. ... Because we're about to write something that might be interpreted as sympathetic to Donald Trump.
As reporter Justin Lahart reported Wednesday, the
Securities and Exchange Commission
came down hard this week on Trump, the egomaniacal, self-promoting blowhard who's chairman of
Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts
Not for being an egomaniacal, self-promoting blowhard, as tempting as that must be. But for something that Trump Hotels did in 1999, in an incident of which Trump says he had no knowledge: In late 1999, the company allegedly misled investors by reporting "pro forma" numbers that excluded a one-time charge -- but included a one-time gain.
Gee, thanks, guys. Just like the NASD's proposal earlier this year that
analysts start disclosing conflicts of interest, the SEC's action against Trump Hotels -- involving no fines and taken more than two years after the fact -- seems particularly effective and timely.
At this rate, when the SEC goes after Andy Fastow, Enron's thirty-something former chief financial officer, they'll know where they can find him: in the Shady Rest Nursing Home.
4. Hmmm. You Think He Might Want to Legally Adopt a Few Reporters?
While we're on the subject of unlikely sympathy for casino owners, we couldn't help marveling at the news about billionaire Kirk Kerkorian this week.
As first reported in the
Los Angeles Times
, Kerkorian -- majority owner of movie company
and casino firm
-- is fighting with his wife over child support for their 3-year-old daughter, Kira.
He has paid as much as $75,000 a month. She wants $320,000 -- you know, for the basic monthly expenses that any daughter of a billionaire would need to bolster her self-esteem: $144,000 for travel, $14,000 for parties and play dates, and $102,000 for food.
Now that's a lot of Happy Meals.
Completely Unrelated News Item
: Word surfaced on Wall Street this week that Kerkorian wants to sell his movie company, asking the outrageously inflated price of $7 billion. Analysts are scratching their heads, wondering why Kerkorian is making that kind of demand right now.
We have no idea ourselves. By the way, we're heading over to Central Park to take our kid to a play date. Can we borrow $1,000?
5. Been There, Done That
You'll recall that
recently we wrote about
Internet Advisory Corp.
, a former Internet-service provider in Fort Lauderdale that is embarking on the innovative strategy of establishing a national chain of strip clubs under the name of Scores, a New York joint.
Yes, a high-tech company on the east coast of Florida that's jumping into the sexually oriented theme-restaurant business. That pushes all our buttons, surefire investmentwise.
And that's innovation.
Or so we thought. As a reader has pointed out to us, Internet Advisory may have a great idea, but it isn't an original one. In fact, it's the
high-tech company on the east coast of Florida that's announced its intentions to establish a national chain of strip clubs based on a New York joint.
Yes, the Boca Raton-based
, that fine, upstanding Internet-based purveyor of financial news and information, issued a press release last month announcing it had acquired nonexclusive rights to the name "Scores" and was hoping to establish a national chain of strip clubs.
Earlier this month, however, JagNotes.com said the deal wasn't going to happen.
But you know how it is: Great ideas never die.