Today's Outrage: Analysts -- Just Like Reporters, Only Slower

We know Wall Street's research community isn't always ahead of the game, but this is absurd.
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Not everyone can be Meredith Whitney.

In case you still don't know, she's the Oppenheimer analyst who quickly made a name for herself late last year thanks to prescient calls on the coming pain in the financial sector, most notably

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

, well before billions of dollars of securities were written down, before the recession began and certainly before the government started pumping boatloads of money into private enterprises.

Clearly, being early and right, whether that's by virtue of being good or just lucky, has a way of enhancing one's reputation immensely, and Whitney is now one of the most respected watchers of the banking sector. Unfortunately, evidence continues to mount that far too many of those CFAs in the analyst community aren't always able to get ahead of the news.

Institutional and individual investors who are paying for research must sometimes wonder if they're getting their money's worth. Despite their sullied reputation following the destruction of the Internet-stock bubble, the majority of analysts are hard-working folks and are really quite bright. If you want to spend an afternoon discussing the finer points of discounted cash flow or weighted average cost of capital, find yourself a Wall Street research analyst and have at it.

What continues to be puzzling is when a well-known firm puts out an after-the-fact downgrade, based on blatantly telegraphed numbers. That analysts are sometimes late to the game isn't exactly breaking news, but consider the following: On Monday,

3M

(MMM) - Get Report

,

National Semiconductor

(NSM)

,

FedEx

(FDX) - Get Report

and

Altera

(ALTR) - Get Report

issued warnings on their financial expectations.

A day after the companies sent these strong signals that things weren't going according to plan, Morgan Stanley and Barclays

cut their estimates

on 3M. Morgan downgraded National Semi and lowered its numbers on Altera. FedEx had its estimates and target cut at Barclays.

Perhaps we should be grateful for the small value adds. JPMorgan at least had the foresight to downgrade FedEx competitor

UPS

(UPS) - Get Report

.

Maybe we should give them a break. Analysts are paid to analyze. When a company has news that could affect its stock price, it's an analyst's job to update his or her opinion and explain what the development means for investors. But surely it isn't too much to ask that research, which is far from cheap, warn of impending doom or describe a sound buying opportunity before the companies do it themselves by way of a press release.

If it doesn't, what are you left with? Reporters, albeit reporters who are paid significantly better than actual reporters and whose services cost a great deal more. Maybe it's time those of us in the media started brushing up on modified internal rates of return and net present value. We're a good bit cheaper.