The Business Press Maven's lame-o-meter was tripped up in a big way this week. Let me give you the lowlights. Then we'll dust ourselves off, pull up our knee socks and forge on.
The Motley Fool tried to slap
upside the head this week, but its argument was so flawed that the article amounted to nothing more than a hapless collection of words.
The flawed premise illustrates perfectly what The Business Press Maven always says: An investor can never assume that a business journalist has working knowledge of either basic math or business history. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, they are fine.
In any case, The Motley Fool brought up the increase in spam content and click fraud, saying that things will never improve through free-market forces because Google has 60% of the market. This means we that consumers are dealing with a monopoly.
You heard that right. They connected the concept of 60% market share with, uh, monopoly.
This earns the boobie prize feared in newsrooms worldwide: the dreaded Business Press Maven "Back of the Hand" award.
Since when was 60% of the market a monopoly? Sixty percent is niiiiice market share, in my book or anyone else's. But a monopoly? Puh-leeze. Standard Oil it ain't.
The Business Press Maven was already reeling from this when, on Wednesday night, the
quarterly earnings. Woe are we. Here are the headlines, and remember, as always: The business media confuses. You break your back trying to decide.
Pick the headline behind Door No. 1, from
Lions Gate Fiscal 2006 Earnings Plunge
Or, 51 minutes later, the six-word strip of wisdom from
Lions Gate DVDs boost fourth quarter profit
Rather than take on the convoluted Associated Press story -- doing so wouldn't be sporting for a great hunter of garbled business journalism like The Business Press Maven -- let's just graciously move on. Instead, let's congratulate Lions Gate for reporting a solid quarter and raising next year's numbers.
, if only because the competition is thin, you've earned (or backed into) the coveted Business Press Maven "Nod of Approval."
But let's move on to a topic that will put my disturbing level of negativity aside, at least for a moment.
The Business Press Maven did get excited this week, and not because of any article he read. I was excited instead about an article I didn't see, an article that would have probably lost investors some heavy change somehow or another.
On June 13, I read this in
The Wall Street Journal
: "Jana Partners Sets Energy Bid In Unusual Move for Hedge Funds." The 14th brought another
piece, "Germany's Merck Takes Hedge Fund Tack."
A hedge fund acting like a corporation on the prowl. A corporation acting like a hedge fund. I went to sleep certain I'd wake up on the 15th to see this story:
"Becoming Each Other: How Hedge Funds are Turning Into Corporations and Vice Versa."
Welcome to the trend story. Of all the many ways that the business press fails investors, it's the trend story that probably leads to more losses than anything.
First, let me explain. The trend story has a long history, and there are legitimate trends in society. (The Business Press Maven remembers the mini-skirt fondly. And the
Fashion Wire Daily
ran something this week on the "sexy but casual" new trend in fashion -- the skinny jean. For all I know, it might be true.)
But whether about fashion or human behavior or, say, on the movement toward alternative fuels like ethanol, a trend story is always an easy fill of available space, whether on the page or television. So, if a hairless house painter kills a family of five in Ohio, stringers and production assistants are sent out to Illinois, both Dakotas and a Virginia or two to see if any hairless house painters have killed families of five there.
It could be a trend.
As the news has become softer and more lifestyle oriented, trend stories are used more and more as harmless filler.
The Washington Post
even ran one recently on the supposedly emerging popularity of the wingman, the buddy who accompanies you to the bar to talk to a less pretty girl as you are courting her friend.
The problem, of course, is that trend stories are rarely supported by more than a hopeful thesis, a small batch of anecdotes and, on a good day, a general statistic or two. Which is why, though they appear to be making light of a future trend, such stories are either straining to link events or merely touch upon a long-term impressionistic truth that is too early by a full business cycle to invest in. (Remember how even the stories in the 1990s about Internet companies would change behavior and earn profits that were right, took years to be so.)
As ethanol producers like
soar this week on the strength, in large part, of trend stories about how the shift toward alternative fuels is overtaking everything in America, let's all arch our eyebrows about just how quickly corn will become the highly profitable answer.
If you don't believe The Business Press Maven, ask your wingman.
A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial website twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children.