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Wall Street's Money Honey Delivers the Goods, Omits the Pillow Talk

Maria Bartiromo's new book skips the inside dish, opting instead for a meaty analysis of the markets.

For the past five years, Maria Bartiromo has been Wall Street's resident glamour girl -- at ground zero every day on the

New York Stock Exchange

, deflecting scurrying traders as she bravely yells about the news, buzz and activity for

CNBC

. For her troubles, she's moved onward and upward at the network after earning her stripes in the pit.

But the past year has been a little less bullish for the Money Honey, with

CNBC

taking some heat for seeming too eager to cheerlead for the market instead of casting doubt on the bubble that has since burst. Also, her husband -- the less-recognizable half of the premier Wall Street power couple -- Jonathan Steinberg has struggled with the deterioration of his financial-publishing outfit, Individual Investor Group. Meantime, his father Saul, the famed Wall Street financier, has had financial troubles, too, forcing him to sell his luxurious Park Avenue digs for $40 million.

All these troubles, coupled with the fact that Maria is in a position to talk about the inside baseball on the Street, could make for a wonderfully juicy book. So the prospect of curling up with Ms. Bartiromo's new book,

Use the News

, was too delectable. Unfortunately, like most insider books, Maria keeps most of the good dish firmly on the inside. However, that doesn't mean

Use the News

isn't a thorough, comprehensive and entertaining read with lots of insights on the daily grind of the markets as well as a valuable -- and critical -- analysis of how to break down a company's balance sheet.

The initial chapters are a chatty, "here's my workday" setup designed to appeal to her fan club. We learn that she reports from the floor of the NYSE, interviews two to six CEOs a day, skims five newspapers, writes a column, culls news wires, hobnobs with power brokers and "flips" through

Barron's

(an impossibility when confronted with Alan Abelson's purposeful, purple prose).

And, oh yes, our intrepid journalist hosts three (and produces one) daily television shows, all the while leveling "the playing field so that individual investors have the same chance of success as professionals." Whew!

That said, once Bartiromo wins the 16-hour-workday dash, the book improves and has merit for its diligence and scope. She gives a precise description of the daily auction on the floor of the NYSE, underscoring "the specialists" who order the market by narrowing the spread between the bid and ask, using their own accounts.

She admits that we do not see "the electronic book," but other than to infer that specialists have privileged information, she makes no value judgments. Pledging her allegiance to the viewer, she says forces that "move markets are going on behind the scenes," yet she doesn't question such advantages.

Bartiromo adds some insightful nuggets. Over the past 50 years, when

S&P

earnings accelerated, drugs have underperformed, and vice versa, as is the case now. She cautions investors on financials. In the past they have risen with descending interest rates but the drag from anemic IPOs and secondary offerings has altered that equation. Ominous info: Qualcomm's CEO Irwin Jacobs told her not to expect to see 3G technology until 2004.

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replays the history of the past two years and what went wrong. Somewhat defensively, Bartiromo bravely sheds light on the touchy subject of analysts and

CNBC

. Back in June 2000 Lehman's tech analyst, Ravi Suria, issued a strong negative call on Amazon.com.

Maria wanted Suria to debate Henry Blodget (he put a $400 target on Amazon when it was at $250), but Lehman refused to allow Suria to appear on air. Instead, Holly Becker, who was cautious, but not negative, was sent forth to join Blodget.

Again, in the summer of 2000, Jonathan Joseph, an analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, predicted the end of the semiconductor cycle. Maria wanted him on the show but he deferred, explaining that he couldn't appear because it was a controversial call. (Three months later, in the middle of the semiconductor correction, he did.)

Exactly why Maria and the producers of

CNBC

didn't alert viewers to the negative calls and their cover-up is unconscionable. At the time, the pabulum feeders were thick on the tube. All of the other semiconductor analysts predicted there was 12 months left in the cycle.

When a reputable subject has something to say but is afraid to talk, it's news. Noise is when analysts and CEOs eagerly promote their stocks on

CNBC

. Sadly for investors, during the go-go tech run-up,

CNBC

become an electronic press release -- broadcasting the very releases Bartiromo now abhors and ignores.

Whether intentional or an oversight, there's an 800-pound gorilla Bartiromo never goes near. We learn how she chitchats with her savvy doormen about waste-disposal stocks, but she fails to elaborate on her husband Jonathan.

Possibly trying to appeal to her small-investor audience, Maria emphasizes that she owns mutual funds, purchased 10 years ago, and doesn't trade stocks. (She loves to curl up in a chair and scrutinize her company savings.)

Exactly what does this lead us to conclude? That the premier power couple on Wall Street have an ironclad prenup? Their monies never mingle? They never dish biz stocks? Unlikely. Steinberg is a big wheeler and dealer -- between them they know where all the bodies are buried and where the big (smart) money is headed next.

Our suggestion for a future bestseller -- the financial version of

Pillow Talk

.

Martha Smilgis is a journalist and novelist who writes "The Outraged Investor" column for The San Francisco Examiner. She doesn't hold positions in any of the stocks mentioned in the above column.

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