Welcome to another edition of the Hotline, the Hootline or what today might better be described as the cooline or

cold

line. (Drats that sudden shifts in temps from 95 to 55, here in the Northeast, put a damper on my spirits and sinuses, which explains the absence of today's

regular

column. Sorry 'bout dat.) So now, as I write this, futures investors are reacting (with predictable knee-jerk precision) positively to the weaker-than-expected April retail number after reacting negatively to the last series of inflationary reports. (By the time you read this the darn market'll probably be

down!

)

This much I know, after having reported on this cycle after cycle after cycle on early morning TV in San Fran (where you always hafta have

something

to say). It's only positive, from the stock market's standpoint, until the

next

report. And then the next, and the next, and the next

...

and then, until housing prices on either coast either

stop

going up

and

fast-food chains and grocery stores and specialty retailers stop advertising for help. I like to think of the "help wanted" signs as the secret inflation, because the only way some of these chains can attract employees who don't chew gum on the job -- is that just a Jersey thing? -- is to pay

above

minimum wage. That's

inflationary!

(Whaddaya mean I oughta stick to poking at the underbellies of individual companies and quit telling you what

I

think about this macro stuff. Considering how the economists, analysts and pundits can't get it right, why should my opinion count any

less?!

) Reminds me of the lunch I had with San Fran

Fed

Chief Robert Parry back in the late '80s or very early '90s when I was bending his ear about inflation and housing prices and how Silicon Valley companies were having trouble attracting talent because of what

then

were considered astronomical housing prices. He responded by saying that what I was saying didn't show up in his data -- the rearview mirror stuff. But then, as he thought more about it, he realized that his own branch of the Fed was having trouble hiring folks from out of state because of the area's high cost of living. The slump killed the Bay Area's housing market and the economy quickly followed.

Speaking of which: When I moved to Palo Alto in 1988 I bought a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,400-square-foot ranch house

without

a family room

in a bidding war

for $385,000. We called it our apartment with a lawn, if you can call that a lawn. Two years later when I went to sell it I couldn't give it away, at least not at the price I wanted -- $525,000; wound up settling for $485,000 after months on the market. That same house now I'm told could probably fetch around $1.5 mil. For

that?!

And you don't see inflation. Hello! (OK, it's in Silicon Valley, but there are ripple effects, nonetheless!)

Short Positions

Blast from the past: Forget Herb's Hotline. How 'bout a moment of silence for the

HMT

(HMTT)

Hotline? May it R.I.P. now that HMT has agreed to merge with longtime disk-making rival

Komag

(KMAG)

. At last check, HMT traded at around 1 3/4 ... And glad to say

lots

of

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Report

employees

and fans

read

TheStreet.com

. Learned that after an item

yesterday suggested the company, struggling to find a niche, was headed the same direction as what once was known as

Montgomery Ward

. From one longtime employee, who acknowledges that he hasn't always agreed with management: "I think most of our problems are on the mend, and with a little 'GOOD' Press you'll see things turn ... we do remain a healthy and profitable company and our merchandise mix right now is the best I've seen it in years." (Don't look for good press to turn the company around.

Sears

(S) - Get Report

had good press, too, and look how

it

stumbled. Nothing beats results, but thanks for sharing!) And from investor Colton Reichert (any relation to Carl, formerly of

Wells Fargo

(WFC) - Get Report

?): "What Carl Icahn knows that you don't is value of assets. JCP has the largest catalog sales of any retailer. They also have a fast growing Internet site unlike your soon to be bankrupt site. The value of JCP's assets is worth $35-75 per share. They do have sales over $1 Billion per month. Hardly an extinct entity. Sometimes I think you get off on being a jerk. Do some DD before you open your mouth." Well, uh ... uh ... with the exception of the last two sentences that's just what a guest on our

TV show on

Fox News Channel

said when he recommended JCP just before it blew its numbers ...

again

.

Final word on the subject from Jeff Brinkman, who writes: "I agree completely, it has been run into the abyss but that is in the stock. I can't forsee anything else that would cause JCP to head lower from here. I know what a dangerous statement that is but from 18 years of trading I have not come across such deep value in some time. Heavy call option activity of late also, large blocks (5,000) indicate someone knew his filing and the CEO being thrown out was coming." And the CEO wasn't booted fast enough. I coulda told them that buying the Genovese chain of drug stores would be a disaster. Can't wonder if he had ever been in one? The joke in these parts, where they converted the Genovese to Eckerd, is that Eckerd made Genovese look good!

More noise on

Nordstrom

(JWN) - Get Report

: Yesterday's Hotline item regarding the demise of the Nordstrom piano, Greg Scherr writes: "Herb the piano in the Nordstroms here in Glendale Calif. has been removed for about 4 months. I miss it when using their men's room." Imagine how those old guys who used to snooze next to the piano holding their wives purses must feel!

...

and from Stephanie -- "formerly of Ridgewood

N.J., where I now live and now of Monmouth County

in the central part of the state: I appreciate your analysis and comments on various companies prospects, but could you please be careful about your comments on New Jersey?" She was referring to my line about how I've never seen or eaten a Jersey Tomato. "The farmlands," she writes, "are way south of you -- Central to South Jersey. There really is a Garden State here." I was beginning to wonder, but, alas, it's too late, signed ... Herb (currently of Ridgewood but soon of San Diego).

Finally, from the consumer desk: Don't squeeze the Charmin (a product of

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

.) Mr. Whipple was right: my son's science fair project compared Charmin to Quilted Northern (Fort James) and A&P's 2-ply brand (???). Charmin won by a landslide. (Not only is it softer, but it's

stronger!

) Most telling was the water droplet test: 10 drops of water on each. While I held the paper tight Andrew dropped quarters, one by one, on each until the paper broke. Charmin held something like 17. Northern, 7 and A&P, 3. Did it twice just to be sure. (Don't know about you, but that's enough reason for my family to switch! Another reason to read ... the Hotline.)

Herb Greenberg writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, though he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at

herb@thestreet.com. Greenberg also writes a monthly column for Fortune.

Mark Martinez assisted with the reporting of this column.