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Last seen during the spiritually uplifting Holy Season, The Business Press Maven was busy spitting wooden nickels at the prevailing thought in the business media that the housing slump was over. It seems the slender rise of consecutive existing-home sale numbers was enough to get the business media -- from the wire services to The Wall Street Journal -- in a lather about a recovery in the housing sector.

It is an ancient foundation of Business Press Maven thought that instant recoveries are a false God, and you should not follow story lines that worship it, no matter how good they make you feel about that big depreciating asset you live in. Here, I was specifically worried about the cancellations that don't show up in many home sales numbers and how the builders were going to have to take charges.

They have taken some already, but were acting like they wouldn't have to take any going forward -- paging Hovnanian ( HOV) -- and in declaring an end to the housing decline in the last week of 2006, the bulk of the business media was falling for this nonsense, hook, line and sinker.

While giving the hairy eyeball to the "Downturn Over," articles, I implored Business Press Maven readers to pay attention to the small batch of articles alerting investors to the prospect of those charges.

Well, late Tuesday, guess what: Lennar ( LEN), a Miami-based homebuilder, slashed its fourth-quarter forecast. Guess why. Land charges. It had to write off deposits on land that it no longer intended to buy.

As Barron's aptly put it over the weekend: "Just as a house is not necessarily a home, an order for a house is not necessarily a sale."

Now -- as in the case of my near-perfect timing in the Pfizer ( PFE) debacle last month -- I must make clear that I do not possess the power of telepathy. But a bunch of readers emailed last week, asking when I thought the land charges would come to the fore.

I said such timing is always difficult, but I thought many of the builders were hoping to be saved by a miracle of a spring selling season; when that didn't materialize, the charges would. That is still a danger, but it is interesting to see how quickly into 2007 the clown parade of charges began.

And that taught the business media a lesson, right? In The Business Press Maven's first official act of 2007, he gave the hairy eyeball to a Reuters story that came across the wire at 1:53 a.m. this morning. Guess the headline: " Manhattan Apartment Downturn Short-Lived: Report." Guess the lead: "The decline in the Manhattan apartment market seems to have been over in a New York minute in contrast to the sluggish U.S. housing market, according to an influential property report released on Wednesday."

If you believe that wishful reading of a few statistics was bad enough, look where the second sentence takes us: "And the Manhattan market could be set for a surge in 2007." From recovery to surge in the space of two seconds. I wish those "For Sales" signs I pass in my neighborhood would disappear that quickly.

Investors: If you treat only one thing I say this morning as if it were handed down from a mountain, let it be this -- ignore such contrived bullishness; pay attention to the coming accumulation of charges.

On the subject of contrived story lines, few are more common than how easy it is for a CEO to be portrayed as a genius. This lulls investors into a false sense of security that they are in good hands when -- at least in the short run -- larger market forces usually have more to do with how a company is performing in the stock market than CEO brain power.

And yet the business media always fall back into the safety of that story line -- the stock is up recently, so the CEO is a genius. Look at a pair of articles that came out in the last couple of days on AT&T ( T). The stock has performed well in only the last year, after God knows how long of doing nothing. Considering the circumstances, the CEO for 16 years -- through many of the miscalculations, miscues and bad luck -- should not be instantly canonized because of one good year, right?

Barron's did a great job in a cover story called " AT&T's Uncertain Future," pointing out the challenges faced by the company, which is still operating in an unbelievably competitive arena and is now harnessed to the almost unreasonably high expectations and valuation of the BellSouth deal.

In light of these larger forces that hold AT&T's fate in the saddle, CEO, Edward E. Whitacre is mentioned a grand total of once. Contrast that to a love letterfrom Forbes throwing around words like "renewed" and handing a microphone to the CEO so that he can try to pump the stock up further than it went in 2006.

"Shoot," he is quoted as saying, "even now it's way behind. It oughta be up 200%!" With one good year of performance under his belt, he even shouts for revenge against journalists who have criticized his high pay and poor performance. "You tell him he's a sorry bastard," he says, apparently grinning, about one scribe.

Rather than questioning whether Whitacre has come down with a bad case of unearned overconfidence, Forbes spends the next paragraph talking about the "sweep and scale" of the AT&T/BellSouth deal. They don't quote his mother, but they might as well.

In any case, even in declaring an end to the housing correction, the business media required two months of statically insignificant evidence. Here, it's one year.

At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children. Fuchs appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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