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With its ear to the ground of the retail world,
Women's Wear Daily
reports this morning that deals for both
could close within a week.
With their ear to the ground of, well, themselves, the
circus rolled into Washington for the predictable cheap brand of melodrama, with Mark Hurd proving that you could go through the motions of accepting blame, and fool about half the next morning's headline writers.
Why is this important for investors? Well, class, as The Business Press Maven has taught you since time immemorial, if there is a spread between headlines and reality, the gap is reflected in stock prices, and that gap will eventually close. Here, Hurd, who in my hardly humble opinion will not last as CEO, has emerged, falsely as, someone who told the truth and wisely.
Truman vs. Simpson
For anyone who actually watched the testimony (note to my editors: that was combat duty, and I want a raise) with a critical eye, Hurd was a grand mix of Harry Truman ("The buck stops here") and Bart Simpson ("I didn't do it, nobody saw me, can't prove it").
Said Hurd, channeling Truman: "I'm responsible for H-P," but the buck -- or the statement -- did not stop there. He then shifted blame, conjuring Bart: "Patti was the chairman. Responsibility goes across the entire company ... including myself."
Translation: "It was my fault except it was really Patti's fault and I guess I'm sort of kind of culpable along with the thousands of other people who work where I do."
Probably because even that wiggy jumble of an excuse actually compared favorably to Patricia Dunn, former H-P chairman, saying, "I do not accept personal responsibility for what happened" -- or maybe because anyone engenders sympathy when Washington gas bags actually compare your otherwise legitimate and solid company to Enron, Hurd was lionized in some headlines,
including one from
: "HP CEO shoulders probe burden before lawmakers."
I guess one headline writer's shoulder is another's slip of the hip.
And let's go beyond headlines. In a
cover story hitting the stands today, Hurd, who granted the magazine a big interview recently, sees the favor repaid with an overly kind rendering that reads like a tongue bath.
"Controlling the Damage at HP" is the title of an article that starts, weirdly, with some hints -- not followed up on -- that Hurd acknowledged a self-proclaimed "detail-oriented guy" was involved in investigating leaks at
. Uh, The Business Press Maven likes follow-up on anything in a lead -- let alone this. But the article is too busy praising the troubled Hurd, including one of the most off-base and misleading lines of the year:
"Perhaps most impressively, Hurd buried the ghost of his charismatic but controversial predecessor, Carleton S. 'Carly' Fiorina." Most impressively? Carly, mind you, is an executive who became so despised and blamed for running the company into the ditch that a herbivorous monkey riding in on a donkey could have buried her ghost.
The ultimate irony in the article that started with a tantalizing though dropped lead? The editors note at the very end that the author of the article was one of those whose private phone records were pilfered.
Step Away From the Computer
From spying, let's move on to sex -- moreover, the charged language being used by the business media this morning. All around me, I am reading that the
"flirted" with a new high. And in the stately
, for heaven's sake, I spotted in the second line of an article about
talk of its "
menage a trois
. The Business Press Maven has no larger point to make here. I just highly recommend to business journalists that they start getting out a little more.
Speaking of contributing to the wider understanding of an issue -- eh, the business media is supposed to do it. But there is an old joke about how a business columnist will give this as long-term advice: "Going forward, the stock market will fluctuate." That's why I nearly spit out my coffee this morning at the sight of this
headline: "Oil prices continue to fluctuate."
Here's the lead: "Oil prices dropped Friday in what analysts called a correction following earlier rises inspired by fears of a possible cut in OPEC output." A prize to a reader who can say that 10 times fast.
And, as you know, The Business Press Maven feels like he has had his horse shot out from under him every time he reads, once again, about revised economic numbers when the originals had been reported on as gospel. Can you say that 10 times fast? Thursday afternoon
we learned that, lo and behold, U.S. gross domestic product grew 2.6%, not 2.9%.
The problem, as always, was that the original figure and all the conclusions drawn from it were reported as if they were permanent facts, with usually only a cursory mention at the end of articles that the figure is often revised. In other words, everything they just said could be totally wrong.
Anyhow, I've gone hysterical on this
many times before, so I'll just point out that at least this time, the revision is such so that the conclusions fall into the same category: The economy slowed, but it's not quite yet in danger territory.
The Business Press Maven, in fact, sees such an economy as a sweet-spot range: not too high that bubbles and inflation begin to emerge, low enough that rates and expectations can be held in check, but not so low that there is pain. Except for The Business Press Maven, who had to watch that H-P testimony.
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 Web site 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.