To tell the truth: Oh, gosh, I sound like a broken record here ... like a clock whose second hand is stuck at 12. I really didn't want to mention
Lernout & Hauspie
. I know you're sick of it. I'm sick of it. The folks telephoning and emailing me with all kinds of threats are sick of it.
of Belgium is sick of it. But then the company went and put out a press release touting that CEO Gaston Bastiaens and John Seo, president of the company's Korean operation, had bought $5 million of Lernout stock with plans to buy shares worth another $5 million "in the near future." Reminds me of the time
CEO Claudio Osorio insisted, in the face of a falling stock price and rising criticism by short-sellers, that he and other top CHS execs would be buying 500,000 shares of CHS stock in the open market. Based on
filings, they wound up buying
nowhere near that!
(You gotta be careful with proclaimed
to buy; if you don't follow through, everybody knows!)
So now we have our good buddies at Lernout with
press release on
stock. First question that crossed my mind (thanks to many a conversation over the years with insider-trading tracker
) is who paid for the shares? Did the cost come right out of the pockets of Gaston and John? If it did, good for them: That would show a genuine act of faith. You can't quibble with cash. On the other hand, if it was a loan, well, that doesn't count. And if it was a loan, well, go back and look at
and what happened to all its execs who borrowed to buy Conseco stock at much higher prices. (Can't help but love Floyd Norris' piece in the
New York Times
this ay-em on how Conseco CEO Stephen Hilbert's $55 million in purchases are now worth around $13 million. Could it be, as Floyd suggested, that he bought when he should've sold? Since it was a loan, well, the answer to that question is: YES!)
At least with Conseco, however, investors were warned (via disclosures in its proxy) that the stock had been bought with borrowed money. Not so with Lernout, which, as a foreign company, lives by a different set of disclosure rules. As I pointed out last June in my Against the Grain column in
Fortune, foreign filers need to file little more than a 20-F annual report. And then, it only has to be filed in paper form at the SEC's public reference room -- not via the electronic Edgar system. And timeliness is irrelevant. The 20-F isn't due until six months
the end of a company's fiscal year. Six months! U.S. companies must file their reports within 90 days. What's more, quarterly filings aren't required in the U.S., if they're not required at home. I don't know about proxies or such things as Form-4s, which would give a clue to where the money is coming from. Which brings us back to Lernout: Go try to find
filings on Edgar (and 144 insider sales notifications don't count!). If the company is as much on the up-and-up as it claims, and if it's doing
well, why doesn't it set an example among foreign companies and voluntarily file
of its financials on Edgar for
to see. Until every other foreign company does that, investors will only have themselves to blame if, as time goes by, what they bought wasn't what they thought.
Ohmyohmyohmy (yes, more shameless, simply
self-promotion): While writing about Lernout I did a quick check on CHS, which has been pretty much off my radar screen ever since it filed for bankruptcy reorganization. Last time we checked,
back in April, the company said it hoped to emerge from bankruptcy as an Internet incubator. (I kid you not!!) Of course,
was the end of the end. On May 10, the company disclosed it had filed a plan for liquidation, and longtime CEO Claudio Osorio had resigned. (With that news, I just have to replay, one more time, the conference call in 1998 held by
analyst and big CHS bull Kurt King after one of my first swipes at the company. Said King, for all to hear: "It's pretty clear to those of us who know the story that Herb just doesn't have the facts straight." That prompted Osorio to say, "We give very little credibility to a Web site owned by a hedge-fund operator."
by a hedge-fund operator? I don't think so. Uh, what was that you guys were saying about facts?)
Turning to the market: Just as
and the Internet work
the market in boom times, they work
the market in bad times. But that begs the question: Are these
bad times? Based on the anecdotal evidence this column has presented in recent days, it's clear there is
kind of slowdown. But take a closer look: It's really just focused on the frothiest edge of the market, especially the part hit by margin calls among those who had come to believe that the market would go straight up forever. Here, again, we have carpenter (and correspondent)
, who hammers away in the many mansions of Saddle River, N.J.: "Owner of a 12,000-square-footer just canceled a slate roof (VERY expensive) and is now going with asphalt roof, saving many 1000's of dollars. The market is all the talk around here." ... The rest of the world is continuing to run, and money continues to flow into 401(k) plans, with month-in, month-out dollar cost averaging, on a regular basis. (Thought even from a retirement standpoint, folks are probably suddenly feeling a little less wealthy.)
As I pointed out
yesterday there's also plenty of conflict in the anecdotal reports, especially from the booming San Francisco Bay area, where there are signs of both a slowdown and no signs of a letup. That prompted
, CEO of
, to write: "What's happened out here is that the consumers have been split into three groups: 1) The ones who are now unimaginably wealthy because they cashed out before April; 2) Those of us who are doing OK, and 3) Those people who lost huge or never had it to begin with. ... In summary, the economy is still overheated, there IS a large wealth effect, but things have cooled considerably right now."
Finally, hype central:
, which has been touting its Electronic Housecall patient-monitoring system that uses the Internet, puts out a press release today saying that it doesn't need
approval for its EHC 200, a video conferencing station. Wow. Big deal. The stock, at one point, rose 49%. But, oh, by the way, Cyber-Care's other product, the EHC 400 Internet device -- the one that's the great hope for this company; the one for which the company has been issuing press release after press release claiming it has orders -- still needs FDA approval. In other words, today's release is
So why did they issue a press release? We don't know; they haven't yet returned our calls. (Oh, and if and when the Internet device gets FDA approval, don't come wagging your finger at me telling me, "I told you so." The whole dispute over Cyber-Care has nothing to do with whether its product will get FDA approval. It's about whether the company misled investors, and
violated FDA rules, by promoting a product prior to receiving FDA approval. Remember when Cyber-Care's general counsel told my sidekick,
the press releases had been wrong, because the company really meant that it had taken orders for the non-Internet device, not the Internet device. What was
about?) Beats me, which is reason enough to end this edition of ... 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
email@example.com. Greenberg also writes a monthly column for Fortune.
Mark Martinez assisted with the reporting of this column.