The Business Press Maven's already off-putting level of self-regard is never worse than when he can say "I told you so" even before I told you so. And so it happened this morning, before you were even awake, with beauty-product giant Avon ( AVP). The huge company is attempting to change an outdated image while also getting its messy financial house in order. That's a little like trying to turn an ocean liner on a dime, but since Avon still somehow has a good name -- or, at least, it still has a name -- I've taken a sporting interest in how chairman and CEO Andrea Jung might do. But I knew that the quarter Avon was due to report this morning would still be rife with questions, charges and a miss or two. Why? Well, the first thing I read today was what appeared to be a scoop by Women's Wear Daily. Hold off on alerting the Pulitzer committee -- the apparent scoop was that Derek Jeter had signed a splashy deal with Avon to coproduce a fragrance. (Jeter asked his mom and sister to sample, we were assured; that's how we know he had input.) Nevermind the idea of a guy who sweats in the Bronx trumpeting a perfume. The Business Press Maven has a rule: When splashy, if suspect, news is planted on the day of an anticipated earnings release, well, the earnings release itself isn't likely to be great. Sure enough: Avon soon reported results generally below expectations, and Jung was reduced in the press release to phrases like "early stages of turnaround" before transitioning into talk of a "transition year." (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.) The Business Press Maven has noted
before that investors are often misled by portrayals of female executives, which too often conform to stereotypes of infallibility or helplessness. So ignore the Ice Queen-themed piece in the current Business Week on Coca-Cola ( KO) Executive Vice-President Mary Minnick. "She's blunt, she's impatient..." bleats the subheadline. More importantly, she's essentially in charge of all aspects of new (noncarbonated) products at Coke. For the company to thrive when traditional soda is not popping, Minnick must continue to deliver in a big way. If she does, she will probably take the top spot at Coke or somewhere equally groovy. If not, well, just because a female executive is portrayed as infallible when she starts doesn't mean she can't be drawn as helpless later on.
Boy, does The New York Times think it's no biggie this morning that Wal-Mart ( WMT) workers in China have formed their first trade union? The article starts by dismissing the possible bad effects on unionization in the third paragraph and continues on. True: Unions in China have been different than unions elsewhere. Specifically, they tend to side with management. As differences go, that's a big 'un. But with China changing so quickly and Wal-Mart (see: recent news about the company failing in Germany and one of those Koreas) having faced particular, peculiar opposition in many places it goes outside rural America, shouldn't a touch more caution be in order? Speaking of China and challenges, don't miss the story in Barron's on how challenges abound. Put that in your easy Wal-Mart expansion and smoke it. And back to The New York Times for a moment, for a good case made over the weekend by Mark Hulbert that the recent broadside encountered by the initial public offering market is a good sign for stocks. That's not to say that profits are in the bag, though you might want to check out Coach ( COH). When Barron's wasn't busy tearing China apart, it ran a pretty convincing story that the recent concerns about the famed leather goods house are overdone and results are, despite the hand(bag) wringing, coming in above expectations. More opportunity (forgive The Business Press Maven for his cheerfulness, but all these political, economic and housing market worries have me more bullish than I've been for quite some time) might lie in video games, music and cell phones. That in itself is no news, but Fortune finds it cause to highlight Vivendi ( V). The French conglomerate, which once had more unproductive moving parts than Avon, is actually positioned quite well, considering that we appear to be living in a world where people get their entertainment from cell phones and the Internet.
Before skipping off into the world of happiness, puppies and cuddles, The Business Press Maven needs to draw your attention to a good story in this morning's Wall Street Journal. Big health insurance companies, such as Aetna ( AET) and UnitedHealth Group ( UNH), have had a good run, but might have lost their pricing power -- with flush(ed) profits to follow. This last item has nothing to do with any specific stock, only a good (nay, great) business deal. Maybe by reading about it in this morning's Los Angeles Times, some of the deal's mojo can rub off on you. The National Basketball Association has 30 teams, but cuts 31 television revenue checks. Who gets the extra one? Two of the smartest (or luckiest) guys in creation. When the ABA merged with the NBA three decades ago, Ozzie and Dan Silna, who owned the St. Louis Spirits, rejected a simple buyout and instead negotiated a deal to share NBA television revenue, then almost nil, in perpetuity. They make millions each year and have none of the costs of running a team. Forget scent o' Jeter. Avon should sell scent o' Silna.