1. Murky ResearchOver the past year or two, research analysts have caught plenty of grief for holding onto buy ratings for dear life. So what are they doing now? Why, they're changing their ratings more often than most people change underwear. OK, OK, not everyone. Just Merrill Lynch analyst David Risinger. And not on every stock. Just on Merck ( MRK), on which Risinger reinstated coverage last month. You see, as TheStreet.com
Talk about faith in one's convictions. Merck's stock, already down from Monday's close of $59.58, falls even further, bottoming out at $55.18. Merck, mindful of the market anxiety exacerbated by Risinger's downgrade, issues a 12:25 press release reaffirming prior guidance for 2002 and 2003. And lo, by 2:21, Merrill upgrades Merck -- but only one notch, to neutral. "We await the details of the financial outlook call," writes Risinger. Here's the part where it gets both sad and funny. When Merck finally issues 2003 guidance on Thursday, it is indeed better than analysts' expectations. Risinger was right. But Risinger -- whose firm has done recent banking for Merck, and who didn't return our phone call -- keeps his rating on the company, alluding to a few questions and uncertainties. Meanwhile, Merck's shares close out Thursday at $59.23. We assume there are many lessons to be learned here, but we'll stick with one: If you see him at the Dec. 10 analysts' day, let him have an extra dessert. We're guessing he'll appreciate the comfort food.
Lazy students aren't the problem. No, it's energetic professionals. Specifically it's public relations executives who devise new words, or repeat them, in service of publicity for their firm's ventures. Yes, that's how we ended up with such cursed coinages as "webinar," "infotainment" and "earballs," we suspect. And now there's this week's monstrosity: "ear-con," found in a press release from the Starz Encore Group of Liberty Media ( L). An "ear-con," apparently, is what people used to call a musical theme -- and still do. In its press release, Starz Encore gushes over its "new on-air graphics package and signature theme music," for the Starz! movie channel, created with the help of people like Elaine Cantwell and Danny Elfman.
2. Ear, There, EverywhereSome people think the greatest threat to our language comes from high school seniors sleeping through English class. But we at the FDT lab blame another population.
As Liberty executive Che Che Mata says in the release, "We went after two of the best people in their respective fields to create a cool look and sound, so, with Cantwell's icon and Elfman's 'ear-con,' how can we go wrong?" How about by putting out a press release?
(Chug!). Specifically, we're fans of the press release the company issued Monday in response to a Sunday press conference held by New York City Councilman Eric Gioia. The subject of the Sunday press conference? Bullet resistant body armor -- what's popularly but inaccurately referred to as "bulletproof vests" -- that DHB sold to the New York City Police Department. On Sunday, Gioia alleged that DHB sold New York's Finest body armor with life-threatening defects. DHB says it didn't. (The NYPD says DHB is replacing 6,300 "questionable" vests, but won't specify why they're questionable.) Whatever the ultimate truth is here, this is serious stuff. It's a life-or-death issue. So how did DHB get its point across Monday that it disagreed with Gioia? Why, in a press release with this title: "DHB Industries Fires Back at NYC Councilman Eric Gioia." Ahhh. "Fires Back." Interesting choice of words there. Yes, we're aware that "fires back" has a metaphorical meaning in the conversational sense. It's a perfectly innocent phrase. And yet, and yet. We're not talking metaphors here. We're talking real bullets and real cops and real bullet resistant body armor here. Seems to us that "shoots back" is a little too close to the subject at hand to be used as a figure of speech. Yeah, imagine a flight school advertising a "crash course" in aviation. That would be a close competitor to DHB in the Bad Taste Olympics. DHB didn't respond to our invitation to discuss the company's wordplay.
3. DHB's Vested InterestSpeaking of tasteful press releases, we're big fans of the scribes at DHB Industries ( DHB)