1. Users Were Also 17% More Likely to File Tax Returns by March 15

Shares in Sanofi-Synthelabo ( SNY) enjoyed a nice little jump this week after the company said its new drug, rimonabant, could cure hair loss.

OK. OK. We made that part up. The French pharmaceutical company didn't make that particular claim for rimonabant. But, given all the other claims made for this wonder drug in the making, it's probably just a matter of time.

As we learned from an S-S announcement this week, rimonabant helps people quit smoking. It helps people lose weight. It increases "good" cholesterol. And it reduces abdominal fat.

Yes, take this pill and get rock-hard abs.

It all seems too good to be true, which is why we at the lab wonder why anyone expects it to be so.

But then we have a horrifying thought. What if this drug works? What if it makes it through the Food and Drug Administration approval process? What if it does everything it's supposed to do without causing bizarre side effects like garlic breath and blue skin?

The $40 billion weight loss industry (as per the Jenny Craig Web site ): gone. The $15 billion diet soft drink business: gone. The $13.5 million health club industry: gone. The $31 billion tobacco industry: gone. The billions more spent on health care to deal with the effects of obesity and smoking: gone.

We suspect that what we have here is a Gallic conspiracy to destroy the U.S. economy. For the sake of the nation, somebody better stop the French before things get out of hand.

And you know this drug will be a huge export. The French want to get skinny and give up cigarettes. We don't think so.

2. We're Getting Very Near the Enron

Shed a tear, folks. Yet another chapter has ended in the story of Enron -- the symbol of all that was shiny and wonderful in American capitalism not long ago.
The House Where Enron Bilked
ChevronTexaco takes over the old digs

Last weekend, we learned from Reuters, the last remaining Enron employees departed from the shiny and wonderful Houston tower that once served as the energy company's headquarters.

Slated to buy the old building and take Enron's place is ChevronTexaco ( CVX), making a move about which we have awfully mixed feelings.

On the one hand, we consider it somewhat inauspicious for an energy firm to move into a building so closely associated with an energy firm best known for its financial shenanigans and sham accounting. It's sort of like newlyweds deciding, "Hey, let's move into that house where that guy murdered his bride a few weeks after they moved in."

On the other hand, we're talking business, not marriage. In this context, ChevronTexaco's move is genius: If one company collapses in a pile of used office furniture, another takes its place -- at bargain-basement rates.

And believe us, the geniuses are working overtime at ChevronTexaco these days. After receiving a $3.5 million tax break from the city of Houston, ChevronTexaco -- which had been all set to buy the Enron tower next week -- put the deal on hold, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday.

What was the problem? Apparently, that $3.5 million isn't enough, and ChevronTexaco is angling for a further tax break from Harris County, in which Houston sits.

Ah, the chutzpah. The spirit of Enron lives on.

3. Pay It Again, Sam

Speaking of tax-avoidance strategies and pharmaceutical breakthroughs, Samuel Waksal popped up again in the news this week.

You remember Sam: He used to be chief executive of ImClone Systems ( IMCL), developer of the cancer-fighting drug Erbitux.

Sam, you may also recall, is in jail -- or, as we like to put it, ImPrison Systems -- thanks to his poorly thought-out decision to try to dump his family's shares in ImClone in December 2001, based on insider knowledge that the FDA was giving the thumbs-down to Erbitux. Martha Stewart, of course, was convicted last week of lying to investigators about her activities in the wake of Waksal's sales at that tumultuous time.
Sam Taxsal?
The trade that takes and takes

This week, ImClone Systems sued Waksal for $26 million, reports The Associated Press. The company says Waksal cashed in $63 million in ImClone securities in 1999 and 2001, but never paid taxes on the sales -- or even filed tax returns until he headed off to jail last year. ImClone is thus on the hook for the taxes that Waksal didn't pay, the company says.

We always suspected that Sam and Martha were different from us. But now we're sure. When they succeed, they succeed spectacularly. And when they flame out, they wind up in jail.

4. Shell Game

Lest we think that Enron was the last company to fabricate numbers in the energy business, here come Royal Dutch Petroleum ( RD) and Shell ( SC).

As we learned this week from reading The Wall Street Journal and other sources, Royal Dutch/Shell executives realized two years ago that they had overstated the size of their oil reserves by a billion barrels or so -- but didn't get around to telling anyone else, including independent board members, until early this year.

Reserve Size Really Does Matter
A billion barrels here, a billion there...


Oddly enough, we can believe that when the discrepancy first arose, everybody involved probably thought it was small enough to get swept under the corporate rug. But as with other accounting discrepancies at other companies -- they traditionally start out small, but balloon over time -- the problem didn't magically take care of itself. By January, the oil and natural gas shortfall was up to 3.9 billion barrels, or 20% of Royal Dutch/Shell's latest announced total.

To borrow the expression often attributed to the late Sen. Everett Dirksen , a billion barrels here, a billion barrels there, and pretty soon it all adds up.

5. Chary of Crossing

Finally, hats off to Global Crossing ( GLBC), yet another example of a company on the way up.

This week, the telecom provider announced a flabbergasting $24.9 billion profit for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31. Yes, billion with a "b." That's probably a record quarterly profit for any company anywhere, and we should all be very proud of them.
Go-Go Global
Bubble player still pitching

If you look at stuff like actual operations, however, Global Crossing didn't do quite that well. Virtually all that profit came from the company's emergence from bankruptcy protection last year -- a process that involved a sizable erasure of debt.

Ah, yes. We remember back to those prebankruptcy days, before we discovered that the whole telecom industry was one massive bubble inflated by suspect round-trip deals. You remember those deals, don't you? Telecom Company A would sell a few million dollars of capacity to Telecom Company B, while Telecom Company B would sell the same million dollars of capacity B. Once you netted everything out, not much money changed hands. But the telcos got to record the money anyway.

Which reminds us: Only two months ago, the no-longer bankrupt Global Crossing issued a press release in which it proudly announced two different deals with another telecom company, XO Communications. In one deal, Global Crossing was selling at least $50 million of "voice termination and private line termination services" to XO. In the other deal, Global Crossing was purchasing at least $70 million in services from XO Communications.

We're glad to see that Global Crossing is back to business as usual.
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