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The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week

What Andersen and Enron might have said to one another. Plus, coffee and potatoes and other foodstuffs.

1. Shoemaker Bernie's Barefoot Brood

Remember last week when we said if you want your employees to despise you, the best way to do it is to take away their coffee?

Well, we've obviously underestimated the ingenuity of America's executives.

Only minutes after we published an item about




"no free coffee" employment policy -- an initiative that's been wildly successful in obliterating any trace of goodwill among WorldCom personnel -- the email started pouring in from the telecom firm's unhappy campers.

It turns out that the company's new cash-for-caffeine policy isn't quite the final word in workforce humiliation at the nation's second-largest long-distance carrier.

No, it appears that this honor must be reserved for the new long-distance credit policy at WorldCom -- or, more precisely, the discredit policy.

Effective Feb. 1, say dozens of WorldCom's disgruntled grunts, the company has ceased its longtime practice of crediting employees -- at least the ones who have WorldCom's MCI as their residential long distance carrier -- up to $25 a month for their household's long-distance charges.

As you might guess, this cost-saving strategy is about as popular as asking

AOL Time Warner


employees to pay $300 a year to check their email.

Yes, it seems to be another example of how CEO Bernie Ebbers apparently seeks to alienate as many employees as possible. You'll remember that Ebbers recently borrowed $339.7 million from WorldCom to cover debts incurred to buy company stock; employees haven't enjoyed the quite the same privilege as their holdings have tanked.

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The WorldCom rank-and-filers, who have a pretty good idea of how much it costs to operate a long-distance service, say the savings are minuscule. By one unverifiable back-of-the-envelope analysis -- WorldCom didn't return a call seeking comment -- the cutback is enough to pay for two hours' worth of salary companywide. The only problem, points out the WorldCom mole who calculated this, is that employees, on average, wasted those two hours by taking extra-long lunches to complain about the new measure.

The long-distance discredit and the 50-cent coffee aren't cost-cutting maneuvers, grumble WorldCommers. They're just an attempt to convert employees into revenue sources.

But judging from the staggering amount of gripe-o-grams WorldCom employees sent to the Five Dumbest Things research lab this week, the long-distance scheme will likely backfire. "I for one have already switched to


," says one WorldCom veteran who requested anonymity. "I never liked MCI/WorldCom service anyway."

Ouch. One wonders how many more of WorldCom's bridges are left to Bernie.

2. Also Stands for 'Coffee-Swilling Floor Brokers'

And now, the answer to that trivia question, what do Bernie Ebbers and

Credit Suisse First Boston

CEO John Mack have in common?

Yes, like the Giant from Jackson, Big Mack has cut out free coffee for employees. This week, in one of CSFB's New York City locations, the company has installed debit card readers on the Flavia coffee/tea machines, says a CSFB spy. Starting this week, that cup of joe will cost John, et al., 50 cents apiece. A CSFB spokesperson confirms that, indeed, the last vestige of free CSFB coffee has disappeared in Manhattan.

Of course, there are some differences here. Unlike Borrowin' Bernie, Mack doesn't appear to have aroused the ire of inequity-sensitive CSFB employees. Plus, we assume that the CSFB pay scale is somewhat higher than WorldCom's, enabling the bankers, on average, to absorb a half-dollar coffee charge better than the Wichita linemen on Bernie's payroll. Plus, it appears that CSFB's caffeine austerity hasn't been applied to the West Coast, where Wall Street types commonly report for work at 4:30 a.m. local time.

But what's --

-- I'm sorry, we interrupt this Dumb Thing for an actual, urgent communication that's arrived from a suffering WorldCom employee:

I really appreciate that you have let the world know of the dire situation we face at Worldcom and hope that someone out there can find it in their hearts to send care packages filled with 100% Colombian coffee, filters, cream or sugar to our offices. We are getting desperate here and don't know how much longer we can hold on.

There you have it, folks. You can donate to the WorldCom Coffee Fund. Or you can just move on to the next Dumb Thing.

3. Behind the Curves at Victoria's Secret

In the business world, there's good timing, and there's bad timing. And then there's timing so exquisitely wretched it deserves its own case study at Harvard Business School.

Falling into that final category is the store-opening calendar at Victoria's Secret, operated by

The Limited's


Intimate Brands



Specifically, we're referring to a new Victoria's Secret store opening its doors at the intersection of Broadway and West 85th Street in New York City.

Now, the local media have already pointed out that the location of the store in and of itself is already a Dumb Thing, what with it being only a New York minute away from a monstrous Victoria's Secret temple at 67th and Broadway. Apparently Intimate Brands has dreams of diluting its brand to an even greater extent than the expansion-crazed


(SBUX) - Get Starbucks Corporation Report

, which at this moment is setting up an outlet in Bernie Ebbers' bathroom.

But we at the Research Lab think we've found something even Dumber about this particular underwear outlet, which has been under construction for months behind plywood walls painted with V.S.'s signature pink and white stripes.

Gosh, we thought each day as we passed the construction site on the way to the subway, maybe we'll buy a little something there to give to our sweetie for Valentine's Day.

Little problem, though. Construction still hasn't finished. On our way into the office Feb. 14, we asked one of the construction workers loitering out in front when the new store would open. Feb. 18, he thought.

You read that correctly. Here we have a store founded on men's desire to give their sweethearts come-hither gifts for those special romantic occasions. It's opening up within days of Valentine's Day, a holiday celebrated across the U.S. as an occasion for gift-giving and romantic-occasioning. But in fact, it's opening up

four days after

Valentine's Day! (Intimate Brands didn't respond to our query about the late debut.)

So now we're picturing an intimate little moment:


"Honey, I know I forgot to buy you anything for Valentine's Day. But I did manage to get you a little something from the President's Day clearance sale at that new Victoria's Secret. How about we have our own private little fashion show, if you know what I mean?"


"Fashion show this, you idiot! If I want romance, I'm going to go see that

Russell Crowe movie. I'm not wasting time on a loser like you."

Yup, that's what Victoria's Secret is. She can't stand you.

4. Phoning It In at Enron

On the slim chance you thought that investment professionals are too busy making money for you to fritter away time emailing jokes to business acquaintances -- well, you're wrong. This arrived in the email from a buy-sider who, if we value our lives here at the Research Lab, must remain nameless. We called Enron, Andersen and

Sprint PCS


to see if they're aware of its provenance.

Here's the skinny from a Sprint spokesman, the only one to call us back: The joke first started popping up on the Internet in text form about two weeks ago; this graphic version of the ad showed up earlier this week. "We didn't make that up," the spokesman assured us gravely. "It's not real advertising," he added, lest there was any confusion.

I'm sorry, this just in: A WorldCom sales executive reportedly -- repeat, reportedly -- accused staffers of stealing coffee, citing as proof the company's determination that pre-measured coffee servings were disappearing at twice the rate of coffee filters. A once-disgruntled-employee, now a happy former one, explains that what was really going on was that people used two servings per batch since the stuff was so darn weak.

5. Spud Crud

This week's sign that the Dow is heading south to 8,000: On Monday afternoon, the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange was rung by Mr. Potato Head.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know there were reasons. The would-be Spud Stud was in town for the American International Toy Fair, the -- ironically enough -- most joyless trade show it's ever been the Research Lab's misfortune to attend.

Source: NYSE

Mr. Head's manufacturer,


(HAS) - Get Hasbro Inc. Report

trades on the Exchange. And yeah, Mr. Head is celebrating his 50th anniversary and kicking off some year-long promotion for

Operation Smile, which is dedicated to providing free facial-reconstruction surgery to needy children worldwide.

-- Sorry for the interruption again. This just in from WorldCom offices in Ann Arbor and Tulsa. The company is pulling out all the office plants, we hear, and donating them to nursing homes. Not only does WorldCom save money on maintenance, the story goes, but it gets a nice tax deduction! --

-- OK, where were we? Oh, yeah. Turning Wall Street into a theme park and tourist attraction is what pumped the Nasdaq bubble up past 5000 before it burst. What made us irrationally exuberant? Why, it was


(VC) - Get Visteon Corporation Report

handing out the free flashlights in front of the Exchange. It was


(SY) - Get So-Young International Inc. Report

passing out the free T-shirts.


(TGT) - Get Target Corporation Report

with the mouse pads.

Now this week it's back to Mr. Potato Head at the closing bell and the

Hershey Foods

(HSY) - Get The Hershey Company Report

Kissmobile parked out in front on Valentine's Day. (Note to Victoria's Secret: Duh!)

Yes, as long as people attempt to turn Wall Street into entertainment, we're doomed.

On that note, from all of us here at the FDT Research Lab, see you next week!