1. A Swift Kick in the Trump
CEO John Chambers may bore us to tears with his marathon conference calls. He, along with
Carly Fiorina, may even have
tanked the tech market with their
cautious talk this week. Still, we have no problem understanding why people respect them.
But Donald Trump? That, we just don't get.
Yeah, Trump continues to be one of those head-scratchers for New Yorkers. At the same time that his reality TV show has made him a nationwide business icon, the question in his hometown is, How did this guy manage to convince the world he's a good businessman?
Well, some of Trump's luster officially diminished Tuesday when
Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts
said it plans to file for bankruptcy protection.
In a business where the house always wins, TH&CR has been a losing proposition. Revenue has declined. Operating income is down. Net losses, thanks to a bad bet on debt, have been rising. For the last eight years, the stock has been an unqualified dog.
As we look for someone to blame here, our eyes fall on the Donald himself -- who not only served as chairman and CEO, but also made sure that every property it owns or operates is named after him.
A man with a talent for publicity? Yes. A man who can look out for himself? Yes. But some sort of model businessman? To answer that question, maybe you should ask the minority shareholders of Trump Hotels, who --
as Timothy Connolly calculated on
-- got stuck with stock worth 3 cents a share.
Fret as you might about Cisco's bloated inventory or whatever. For us, Chambers on a bad day beats Trump any day.
2. Next Stop: The Island of Misfit Toys
Toys R Us
said Wednesday it was thinking about getting out of the toy business.
Santa's Workload May Increase
How sad is that? Here is a company with a name that screams out, "These are what we sell!" And now the company says, "Well, maybe not."
Perhaps this is a moment for serious reflection about the monumental shifts in the toy business -- the same type of shifts that caused fellow toy retailer FAO to declare bankruptcy last year not just once but twice.
Instead, we'll just pass along some recent research. If indeed Toys "R" Us goes ahead with its possible sale of its toy business, we're happy to report the availability of a useful Internet domain name: WeUsedToBeToys.com.
3. Hewlett the Dogs Out
Well, as miserable as the folks at Toys R Us must feel this week, they've got some seriously poetic company.
That's what we discovered Thursday morning, when in our ceaseless quest for good news on Wall Street, we pointed our browser over to Yahoo! Finance to see what was up with Hewlett-Packard.
H-P, you may recall,
missed estimates and guided downward Thursday, blaming "unacceptable execution in Enterprise Servers and Storage." The stock lost 17% of its value by noon, and Fiorina spoke of "immediate management changes."
Well, once we arrived over at Yahoo! Finance, we found this little gem on Yahoo!'s summary page for H-P: An ad touting the synergies between H-P and, of all companies, Toys R Us.
Yes, indeed. With Toys R Us plus H-P, anything is possible. Just not this particular week.
4. Another Tell-Tale Sign of a Bear Market
We at the research lab have nothing against cute little teddy bears. Except, that is, when someone tries to persuade us that they're a sound business investment.
That's why our fluff-in-the-market alarm bells started ringing Thursday: Retailer
filed to go public.
Build-A-Bear, if you're not familiar with it, is a chain of stores "providing a 'make your own stuffed animal' interactive 'retail-tainment' experience." Walking into one of the company's stores, explains Build-A-Bear in its prospectus, customers can "stuff, fluff, dress, accessorize and name their own teddy bears and other stuffed animals."
The company's concept, says Build-A-Bear, "capitalizes on what we believe is the relatively untapped demand for experience-based shopping as well as the widespread appeal of stuffed animals."
Call us cranks, but this doesn't quite strike us as a brand that will last for the ages -- or even a few decades, like Toys R Us. Once the novelty wears off at each store, it's easy for us to imagine the demand for make-your-own pets to be as durable as that for, say, Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies or the Pokemon lifestyle. Thank goodness none of them went public.
Confirming our suspicions, we note that same-store sales at Build-A-Bear declined 6.7%, 9.7% and 15.9% in 2001, 2002 and 2003, respectively. Granted, comparable store sales rose 13.8% in the first half of 2004, thanks to a new marketing program launched in February. But a six-month reversal in a three-year trend doesn't quite calm our nerves.
To Build-A-Bear's credit, it's actually making money -- and increasing amounts of it -- unlike some other recent IPO candidates.
Yet as much as we'd like to cuddle up to Build-A-Bear, some fuzzy little red flags get in the way. There's the related party transactions, for example: The $9.4 million in fixtures and furniture the company has bought from the husband of the company's chief executive. There's the suspiciously cutesy practice of referring to the company's officers as "bears," as in "Chief Executive Bear and President" Maxine Clark.
And, finally, there's the lousy record of the only publicly traded teddy bear company that we know of: the mail-order firm
Vermont Teddy Bear
, at which teddy bear sales fell 6% in the first nine months of the current fiscal year. If you'd managed to buy its stock at the $10 offering price back in 1993, why, you'd still be $5 underwater.
Yes, if you ask us, Build-A-Bear as an investment is a load of Pooh.
5. Schwab's Limitations of Statutory Disqualifications
We're all for the reintegration of convicted criminals into the workforce. But around certain occupations -- say, the driving of school buses and the handling of brokerage accounts -- we have our concerns.
It appears that not everyone always shares those concerns, though. Take this week's news about
As ace reporter Matt Goldstein pointed out Monday, the
New York Stock Exchange
fined Schwab for failing to comply with the NYSE's policy related to employees and contractors with criminal records, over a 6 1/2-year period. Neither admitting nor denying charges, Schwab agreed to a $250,000 fine.
Schwab, the NYSE says, got into the careless habit of hiring folks though their criminal records disqualified them from working for an NYSE member firm. (These rules forbid employment -- unless the NYSE grants specific permission -- of anyone with a felony conviction within the past decade, or anyone who has been found guilty of specific misdemeanors including burglary, false report or forgery.) In some cases, Schwab conducted inadequate background checks that would have unearthed employees' "statutorily disqualified" status; in other cases, employees disclosed their SD status, but Schwab went ahead and hired them anyway.
Meanwhile when other (presumably non-disqualified) employees got into legal trouble, Schwab failed to report these events, as required, to the NYSE.
It's one thing to forgive and forget. But it's another to not even care in the first place.
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