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1. Blame It on the Rain

When it comes to the subtle connections between publicly traded companies and the world around them, there's one thing you can depend on: When business is bad, someone will always blame the weather.

That's the problem with the weather, apparently. It's never quite as hot or as cold or as dry or as wet as you expect it to be. How's anyone supposed to run a business when this weather thing is so unpredictable?

This week's big complainer is


(WMT) - Get Walmart Inc. Report

. On Monday, the Arkansas-based retail colossus

lowered same-store sales guidance for June, blaming a cooler-than-expected June.

Which got us to thinking: We at the lab know we can't forecast trends in the weather, but maybe we can discern trends in blaming it. So we did a search of press releases over the past seven and a half years, keeping a sharp eye out for any company releases containing the tell-tale words "unseasonable" or "unseasonably."

After all, nobody ever attributes success to unseasonable weather, only failure.

Anyway, as illustrated by the accompanying chart, here's what we found: In fact, there is no trend in blaming the weather. Judging from the number of press releases blaming financial results on unseasonable weather, the annual amount of blame appears to rise and fall within a range -- just like the annual rainfall.

Additionally, there is no seasonality in unseasonability, we learned. In some years, most of the weather-blaming falls in the second half; in others -- 2002 for example -- it's heavily weighted in the first half.

But the final thing we learned is that weather-blaming appears to be remarkably low this year.

In other words, though Wal-Mart's pervasiveness throughout the U.S. might indicate that it's representative of all weather-blaming everywhere, nobody else seems to be suffering the way Wal-Mart is.

Weather Socking Tales
Corporate financial press releases alluding to "unseasonable" weather

*Estimate, based on mentions through 6/30/04.
Source: Business Wire and PR Newswire, via Factiva

Which raises some questions. Is Wal-Mart a leading indicator, or an outlier? Are same-store sales the result of uncontrollable forces, or human decisions made in the neighborhood of Bentonville?

We'll get back to you on that -- as soon as we do some research on the phases of the moon.

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2. Fed in Mouth Disease

This week, the Alan Greenspan Award for Clarity of Financial Expression goes to (drum roll, please) Alan Greenspan! -- plus all the other wacky folks at the

Federal Open Market Committee


In a fit of self-parody, the FOMC issued this statement, among others, as

it raised the federal funds rate a quarter-point:

Garbled Greenspeak
Al has a language all his own.

The committee perceives the upside and downside risks to the attainment of both sustainable growth and price stability for the next few quarters are roughly equal. With underlying inflation still expected to be relatively low, the committee believes that policy accommodation can be removed at a pace that is likely to be measured. Nonetheless, the committee will respond to changes in economic prospects as needed to fulfill its obligation to maintain price stability.

It's at moments like this that we realize that Greenspan has achieved Biblical proportions.

"Biblical" in this case meaning not "epic," but this: Somewhere, somebody writes an ominous, mysterious text in a language we don't understand. Then the rest of us spend our lives trying to figure out what it really means.

3. Strike Three, and You're Out

Pretend you're a bankrupt airline, and the Air Transportation Stabilization Board

turns down your loan guarantee request for the third and final time.

Do you skulk away in silence? Do you get angry? Bitter?

Actually, if you're

United Airlines

, you thank the ATSB for its show of support.

Yes. In a refreshing display of silver-lining location, United said Monday it was "gratified" by the ATSB's "public recognition of our progress." Says the company, "The message from the ATSB is that we can get the exit financing we need on our own."

When we at the lab read the ATSB's Monday rejection letter, however, we didn't get quite the same message. Granting the loan guarantee "is not a necessary part of maintaining a safe, efficient, and viable commercial aviation system in the United States," said the board. Airline credit markets have improved, said the board, "increasing the likelihood of United succeeding without a loan guarantee."

"Increasing the likelihood," to our ears, isn't quite the same thing as a letter of recommendation.

This whole thing makes us picture a scenario in which a man crawls up to us, begging for a scrap of our


(MCD) - Get McDonald's Corporation (MCD) Report


"I'm starving!" he cries. "Give me a bite to eat!"

"No way," we reply. "You know how to fish."

"So I do!" he replies. And as he crawls away, he gasps, "Thanks for the compliment!"

4. Retire When You Are Ready, Gridley

Last week, you may recall, we puzzled over

the question of why executives retire -- or, more precisely, what the official company line is on the subject.

Do they, we wondered, want to pursue other interests? Do they want to pursue personal interests? Or do they just want to spend more time with their families?

We thought it was a single-answer-question for each executive at issue. But subsequent to publishing our research, we learned that life isn't that simple.

Prioritizing Life's Priorities
Retirees can have their cake and eat it, too.

See, just as our survey of the issue was published last Friday morning, the


(IPG) - Get Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc. (IPG) Report

advertising conglomerate said that 51-year-old Chris Coughlin, who joined Interpublic as chief operating officer only last June, had decided to retire.

Why? "I concluded that there are other priorities I would like to honor at this point in my life," Coughlin said, "such as spending more time with my family and other personal pursuits."

See? It's not a question of spending more time with your family


personal pursuits. You can have spending more time with your family


personal pursuits. So much to do, so little time.

5. Up Next: Levi Strauss Suggests 42% of Americans Don't Wear Enough Clothing

If there's one thing we've learned from companies on Wall Street, it's that Americans are in danger of not buying enough of what they're selling.

This week's alarming example of an alarmist company:

Newell Rubbermaid

(NWL) - Get Newell Brands Inc. (NWL) Report

announced Thursday that millions of Americans are at risk of dehydration.

No, we're not talking about the danger of dehydration faced by those Americans doing relief work in the Sudan. We're not even talking about the dangers of dehydration faced by Americans who are doing physical activities, like, you know, running.

No, everyone is at risk, says Rubbermaid. "Dehydration occurs when the body needs to replenish fluids lost through perspiration, exposure to heat or extremely dry air and caffeine and alcohol consumption. Hydration is critical for everyone, not just those involved in physical activities."

So how can we get ourselves out of this fix? What are we to do?

Lucky for us, Rubbermaid has a solution.

"Rubbermaid has designed HydroGear bottles to meet the hydration needs of consumers during their specific daily activities," the company says.

Whew. Thank goodness for Rubbermaid. They come through for Americans when no one else does.

Unfortunately, the rest of Rubbermaid's water advice doesn't quite, um, wring true.

"To avoid dehydration, consumers are encouraged to have a water bottle with them at all times, especially when they get up in the morning, at mealtime and at bedtime," says the company. Especially at mealtime? What's the matter with these people? They never heard of a water glass?

Then there's the part where Rubbermaid explains that its HydroGear bottles are designed for folks like "those fashion-conscious individuals who want to look good while staying hydrated."

Hmm. Those fashion-conscious individuals who want to look good


staying hydrated. It had never occured to us that there might be fashion-conscious individuals who suffered from


looking good while staying hydrated. It never occured to us we had spent the last few years choosing between looking good and staying hydrated. Thanks to Rubbermaid for clearing that up.

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