The Maven: Making the Most of Bad News

So much bad news, so little time.

We are ending a week that included bombs over Israel, even Japan raising rates and a parade of questionable earnings reports in the U.S., where a pastor speaking at Ken Lay's funeral likened the Enron scoundrel to lynching victim James Byrd Jr. If I left anything out, just write it off to exhaustion.

But with the world apparently coming unhinged, let's pay special attention in coming days to buying opportunities.

One doesn't need a weather vane to see which way the wind is blowing in the Israeli stock market. Israeli investors are close to panic mode, with the market dropping more than 8% in the past two days. Teva Pharmacutical ( TEVA) and Perrigo ( PRGO) fell about half that (so far) in American markets, but our own TheStreet.com correspondent in Tel Aviv, Elinor Arbel, picks the right time to sift for buying opportunities.

Arbel quotes an HSBC report that suggests (rightly) that sizable Israeli exporters might be relatively unaffected by the recent escalation in fighting in the northern portion of their country. NICE Systems ( NICE), Saifun Semiconductors ( SFUN) and Orbotech ( ORBK), which are all down, might fit into this category. Moreover, the Israeli economy has been resilient in the past (it does have some experience with this sort of thing). And with inflation in check and earnings strong, why should this time be different?

Over at The Jerusalem Post, there's some dissent, with obvious headlines like " Northern Flareup Could Slow Growth" and " Violence Brings End to Tourist Flow Up North." The first is a story on economists' concern that the country's budget might have to be reworked to allow for war funding. (Editor's note: To access some of these stories, registration or a subscription may be required. Please check the individual links for the site's policy.)

But to steel yourself for a buy-on-the-bombs investment, let us look elsewhere in The Jerusalem Post for signs of long-term opportunity. On this note, there is a warm editorial from Chen Yanglong, China's ambassador to Israel. A strong case can be made that small, technological savvy countries like Israel and Ireland may stand to benefit the most from China's development in the coming years. Yanglong touches upon the remarkable growth in trade between the two countries and gets florid in his confidence for future partnerships, even going into metaphor overload mode.

Gushes Yanglong:
"I therefore firmly believe that for Israelis the Chinese market is just like the wide sea for fish to leap or that vast sky for birds to fly."

From war abroad, let's turn to natural disasters at home, like Allstate ( ALL). There is a good Inside Wall Street capsule in the BusinessWeek hitting the stands this morning on what a good buy the company might be. Its P/E trails other insurers badly, but a cut in risky exposure and price increases puts it in good standing.

Also in the latest BusinessWeek is a good note of caution, specifically on tobacco. The Florida State Supreme Court's dismissal of the Engle suit earlier this month and the decrease in other claims in recent years has been received as good news for the tobacco companies. But the overall level of litigation is still high and some of it might be successful, according to BusinessWeek, which offers a good primer on the litigation out there.

And wouldn't it be nice if we could litigate inflation away? We can't, but The Economist points out what is emerging as the obvious: For the first time in years, interest rates in the U.S., Europe and Japan are cycling in the same direction. Hopefully more to follow on how this will help and challenge investors.

And an unlikely bit of good news at Pepsi ( PEP), where the flagship brand fell worse than flat (Pepsi volume slipped 1%) but the company at large outperformed due to an increasingly successful noncarbonated business. It's adding to its noncarbonated businesses and wrote off soft drink weakness to price and obesity concerns.

The company also did an "at least" numbers guidance, my favorite. They said full-year earnings would be "at least" $2.95 a share, up from $2.93.

A key factor going forward was left unsaid. Pepsi executives are quoted all over creation (including in The Wall Street Journal) as saying that carbonated beverages should improve. But there seems to be little in the way of explanation (even in the Journal) as to why. The mystery answer is important. If it can get that carbonated business going again, look out above.

Also in The Wall Street Journal, an interview with Carlos Ghosn, who is said to have the powers to save General Motors ( GM). We'll see about that. Ghosn got busy in the interview lowering expectations and telling the cornered General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner that he had nothing in the world to worry about. Would I like to be a fly on the wall at today's meeting.

And while we are on the subject of marriages, let's end the week with an annulment. In what Variety called a "stinging blow" to the music industry, a European court nixed the Sony- Bertelsmann merger. The 100-page judgment was "caustic," Variety noted, never a tone you like coming at you from the bench.

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