(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.) With emerging stocks submerging on Tuesday and Apple ( AAPL) catapulting on the strength of a phone product with the battery life of a June bug, The Business Press Maven wants first to focus on the truly incredible news of the day: evidence of morality on Wall Street. Are the waters actually safer for investors? Well, I wouldn't go that far. But it is interesting that a big flashing neon sign saying "Decent Ethics Here" does not seem to have been mentioned much (if at all) by the business media. Shares of Gap ( GPS), the troubled retail behemoth, actually went up Monday when CNBC reported that the company had hired Goldman Sachs to "explore options," including selling itself. In most of the coverage that followed, reporters looked at a proposed price tag of $18 billion (more than The Business Press Maven makes in two entire years), asked analysts about it and rightly concluded that it's going to be hard to find a live buyer. Or a dead one. But -- though maybe I missed a single random mention -- in all the interviewing of analysts that I read (from a Forbes piece to a MarketWatch story headlined, "Sell Gap while the going's good, say analysts," and so on), it does not seem to be noted that Goldman Sachs, hired to do the investment banking, has a sell on the stock.
Readers know that The Business Press Maven is never an apologist for Wall Street. Quite the opposite; as a critic, I rank as an enthusiast. One of the most useless aspects of Wall Street research on the whole is the lack of sell ratings. Even when a company has no decipherable strategy, has made gross miscalculations for years and probably will attract only will-nilly acquisition interest in an era when even a partially torn piece of moldy bread could fetch top dollar, the stock will be rated a hold. Here: a sell. But more: The rare sell comes from the company that has been hired to, uh, sell it. Is this evidence of the vaunted Chinese wall between research and investment banking, that important separation of church and state that will do investors more good in the long run but historically has been an illusion? Well, in this one case, certainly yes. And it bears mentioning by the business media -- not to mention watching by investors, to determine whether it's fluke or trend. While broaching the topic of flukes and trends, let's talk about coverage of Apple's groovy new cell phone. It is interesting that within a few days' time we've seen two very different approaches to major new product announcements. First there was overwhelmingly positive coverage GM's ( GM) new, all-electric car. Said coverage was so positive that it generally
didn't mention highly promotional past efforts from GM such as the hydrogen car, which won't be commercially viable in a meaningful way until The Business Press Maven is in assisted living.
Apple's highly promoted new cell phone, which actually is coming to market, received far more muted and measured press. Maybe it's easier to sell business journalists a dream or maybe cars are sexier than phones, even snazzy-looking cell phones. Or maybe, despite what Slate says in a somewhat strained metaphor (Steve Jobs, Apple chief and King of Stock Backdating, is the Michael Jordan of the business world in that no call will go against him), the business media are taking him to task, if not directly. Whatever the cause for that, there still was a bit of overly positive coverage of Apple's iPhone out there that I must skewer because the stock has -- mark my words -- gotten ahead of itself. Business Week, for example, penned a long, wet love letter to the iPhone. I don't want to dignify the story with too much of my precious time. Suffice to say, it was called "The Future of Apple," and it had a subheadline centered on the concept of "setting a new course for the outfit once known only for its computers." As I see it, Apple is less setting a course than desperately seeking a follow-up to its iPod with a product in a sector of the electronics market that Apple didn't invent. As for that competitive cell-phone market, the lead talks about the "pounding" headache Apple will cause the competition. Within the first quote by Jobs, who can come across as P.T. Barnum-meets-the-microchip at these unveilings, he's allowed the hyperbolic "Every once in a while a new product comes around that changes everything." It's true, and the iPod did, but this phone seems not quite as good a product in a much more competitive field.
The article does mention some drawbacks and challenges, but only en route to dismissing them. For instance, the device's five-hour battery life is "within a couple of hours of many high-end smartphones'," Business Week says. But when you are talking about a base of five hours, "within a couple" comes out to 40% to 60%. But don't let decent thought stand in the way of media day excitement, Business Week seems to say: "The company seems to have worked out answers to other key questions as well." Interestingly, BW also brings up Jobs' past stance that it would be nuts to get into the competitive cell-phone business, which is "cutthroat," as The Wall Street Journal rightly puts it this morning. How far does Business Week go in holding up Jobs' currently professed excitement to his old words? "Some of those players
in the cell-phone market may soon wish Jobs had kept his promise." Could be. Jobs is one of the few geniuses in American business. And The Business Press Maven is glad that on the whole -- look at The Wall Street Journal's coverage, which asks " is it worth it?" in addition to reporting the story -- even this genius is being made to prove himself on this new product. This beats all the happy talk about the battery-powered car with a battery that hasn't been invented yet. But with the stock already running, be weary of overly worshipful cult-of-Jobs coverage that makes it run further.