We at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab can't tell you how many times we've received letters telling us what a bunch of smart-alecky, idiotic grumps we are.
Well, actually, we
tell you how many times we've heard that. But it would just depress us.
Anyway, it occurred to us that in honor of Valentine's Day -- in theory one of the lovingest, warmest, fuzziest days of the year -- we at the lab might try a different approach. Instead of looking for the dumbest things on Wall Street this week, we thought we'd look for the sweetest. Yes, we'll look for things that make us tingly happy all over, not the stuff that makes us want to bang our heads against the wall.
We'll try, at least.
So here go the Five Sweetest Things on Wall Street This Week. The Dumbest Things will return at their regularly scheduled time next week.
1. If It's Brokers, Maybe It Got Fixed
Is it just us, or has Wall Street's traditional whipping boy -- the quality of sell-side investment research -- gotten better over the past few months?
We're deadly serious about this.
Yes, despite our worst fears that Jack Grubman's
coverage had less to do with the telecom market than it did with the 92nd Street Y nursery school, our gut feeling is that research from the major brokerage houses is far more perceptive -- at least more provocative -- than it was in the run-up to 2000's peaks.
Consider some of the reports we've read recently about cable and related industries. The long-awaited arrival of
cheaper cable boxes will make cable more profitable. Despite the success of high-speed data connections among cable companies,
the service will face pricing pressure later this year.
Distribution companies are slowly gaining power in their bargaining with programming suppliers.
Cable programming costs will rise faster than expected, argues one report.
No, they won't, responds another.
Now, all of these reports can't be right. But at least each is giving some intriguing ideas to kick around -- new information and new theories that could change investors' basic assumptions about how to look at this industry.
In contrast, our memory of sell-side research from three years or so ago is little more than a hazy blur of "buy this stock, which has risen 212% because we have calculated it will rise 87% more." We know this is a completely unfair and unscientific comparison, but let's take a random walk down First Call for some headlines of a few years back: "The Cable TV Portal: The Next Frontier," for example. "Adelphia Communications: 'You've Come a Long Way, Baby!'" too. And also this initiation on Charter: "Largest Pure-Play in the Cable Television Industry With 6.2 Mil Subscribers." Pretty white-bread stuff.
Of course, maybe what's going on here is that the research hasn't changed, but the markets have. As the tide rose high, maybe there was room in the boats only for optimists. Then, as the feds turned the heat up on Wall Street, it became hip to be skeptical. Soon it will cease to be hip.
Or maybe, just maybe, someone on Wall Street has learned some lessons from the past few years.
2. Itching on the Grass, Alas
They're young. They're in love. And their picture is featured this month in advertising for both
The Body Shop
At this point, our thoughts go off in different directions. First, there's the lying-on-the-grass-and-kissing-from-opposite-directions angle. It looks joyful and spontaneous, but when we tried to duplicate the setup in the research lab, the logistics were off-putting. It takes a lot of adjustment to make sure you don't knock each other's teeth out as you lean in for the kiss. Plus strong muscles in the back of your neck as you strike the perfect pose.
The other thing we thought about was what came first, Yahoo! Personals or The Body Shop? Should you not waste your time trying to smell better before you meet that special someone? Or will you never meet that soulmate unless you clean up your act? We at the research lab, not the world's biggest experts on human chemistry, leave the answer to you.
3. Love Is in the Airwaves
Speaking of chemistry, we'd now like to discuss the murky relationship between cell phones and sex.
See, for years we've espoused what we call our Tripartite Electronic Communications Technology Utopianism Theory. According to TECTUT, each time a new medium has arisen -- starting with radio, all the way up to the commercialized Internet -- its champions have always made the same three promises. One, the new technology will make your kids smarter. Two, it will improve your health care. And three, it will bring your family closer together.
Thus, during the pre-dot-com days of the early 1990s, information superhighway futurists described three standard benefits. With distance learning, your kids would learn Latin from the finest teachers in America. Your doctor would make video house calls. And though grandma might live far away, the video phone would reunite the family.
Now we're wondering, though, whether we should add a new promise: Use this cell phone, and you'll find true love.
How else to explain the press releases we've been reading recently? Cingular Wireless -- a joint venture of
-- explained last week that users could reveal their "secret crush" by sending an anonymous text message to their beloved's cell phone. The recipient reads: "KISS: You've been kissed! To guess your kisser, type KISS followed by a space and the mobile phone number of whom you'd like to kiss. Send the message to 141." If he or she guesses right, both parties receive a "Match Message."
Match.com said this week that it would provide wireless dating, matching and communication capabilities to
customers. The service, says Match.com, will enable singles to message and communicate anonymously with other singles in their area -- until, of course, they're ready to reveal themselves.
For a moment here, we'll overlook the likely logistical issues. Finding true love via cell phones? Heck, it's a better strategy than Joe Millionaire.
4. It Ain't the Motion, It's the Meat
The Canyon of Heroes.
It's what they call Broadway in the Financial District during a ticker-tape parade -- or whatever it is you call a paper-strewn parade in these postmechanical times.
The Canyon of Heroes is also the name of a Broadway sandwich shop.
Like a kid who laughs at a silly joke no matter how many times he hears it, we smile each time we see the deli's sign. Partly, we think, it's the naughtiness. The word "hero" has taken on a new connotation in the city in the past year and a half, and the shop is not too far from the World Trade Center site.
But if you're going to open up a store in New York, you can't be shy. Hero still means a sandwich, and we still have to eat.
5. Bookman New Style
It's hard to describe how we felt this week when we saw a sign saying
is coming to town.
Yes, right around the corner from the Research Lab -- we won't even have to cross the street to get there -- one of those giant houses o' books is going to open this spring.
Wow. What could be more glorious than taking a long lunch hour to settle into a comfy chair up on a balcony somewhere, sip some latte, and leaf through a bunch of glossy magazines we have no obligation to buy?
Nothing, other than not having to walk more than 30 yards to get there. And that's pretty much how far away Borders will be.
The other part of the story here is that this isn't the first Borders bookstore in the Financial District. There used to be another one, at 5 World Trade Center. A lot of things that used to be in downtown Manhattan aren't here anymore. Now one of them is coming back.