(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 is endlessly fascinated by the business media because of all the complex issues of thought and great intellectual heft it presents every day. For example, this very morning, from the wire services to CNBC, we can't tell whether analysts expect AMD ( AMD), the No. 2 chipmaker, to report within weeks that fourth-quarter sales were $1.85 billion ... or nearly a half-billion less? You might think that pinpointing a past number without a half-billion dollars of wiggle room, quite a generous allotment for error in my modest opinion, is easy and hardly an intellectual exercise on par with solving the problem of cold fusion. But apparently not. The Associated Press and Reuters messed it up late last night. So did Joe Kernen this morning, saying the wrong thing on CNBC in the wee hours, when The Business Press Maven and seven traders with sleep disorders are the only ones watching. Kernen was quickly corrected by an analyst and went on with the right number on his lips. Even The Wall Street Journal seemed to try to finesse the issue by not including a previous expectation. Bad high-end scribes, bad. Anyhow, intrepid traders, be careful that the grossly miscalculated number does not become the basis for your thinking. AMD, with competition from Intel ( INTC) hurting business, has enough problems without the mistake.
If you're confused, take a ticket. Your number will be called -- as soon as we can figure out the number. Actually, it's all pretty easy. Everyone is reporting the bad-enough news -- that late Thursday, AMD reported that sales for the fourth quarter, to be reported Jan. 23, will be in the 'hood of $1.37 billion. Analysts were looking for $1.44 billion on an apples-to-apples basis, which already has AMD stockholders quavering. But The Associated Press and CNBC originally reported that expectations were pegged at $1.85 billion. A miss of that order -- at any time, but especially this late in the quarter -- would have shareholders doing worse than quavering. (Would that be quivering? I'm not sure.) The point is that lowering a revenue forecast from $1.85 billion to $1.37 billion would show evidence of a rapidly faltering businesses, if not an utter lack of ability to forecast, evasiveness or worse -- primordial, reverberating, transgressive trouble. In other words: AMD would be screwed. But that $1.85 billion number includes revenue from ATI, a graphics-chip maker AMD acquired in October. It shouldn't be counted in the comparables. Or, if it is, that should be noted clearly and prominently by the business media. AMD shareholders will have enough trouble today without revenue being a half-billion dollars light.
Maybe the problem with AMD was that the business media tried to think independently. As you know, The Business Press Maven often gives the hairy eyeball to the way the business media do little more in their stories than rewrite company press releases. But one thing might be worse: when these little rewrite monkeys ignore company press releases altogether. Take coverage of the recent action in the heavily shorted stock of Sears ( SHLD) -- puh-lease. In fact, if it were possible I'd short the coverage of this heavily shorted stock. The company released two bits of information Wednesday morning. Already this spells trouble. There is, as The Business Press Maven is known to walk down the street muttering, such a need for speed in today's business media that two bits of information are likely to lead to one big mess of a quickly turned-around article. That the two bits in this case were contradictory makes things almost guaranteed to turn bad. Sears said at 7:30 a.m. on the dot that same-store sales were really, totally lame. For the nine-week period ending Dec. 30, its Kmart division's comps slipped by 1.2% due to "lower transaction volumes," great obfuscating jargon for "people bought less." (I guess that's as opposed to the lower same-store sales caused by people buying more. Please grab a mop and mind the dripping sarcasm.)
At Sears stores, things were worse, with sales down 5.6%. But the company also raised guidance for 2007. How did this play out in the media? Well, in the first wave of headlines on Wednesday, you wouldn't have known that anything was said about anything but same-store sales. " Sears Holding same-store sales decline," said MarketWatch. " Sears holiday sales slip," said Reuters' first take. And so on. Later in the day, writing about Sears grew more positive; witness the improved stories from Reuters (" Sears sees higher 4th-qtr earnings; shares rise") and AP (" Sears Expects Higher 4Q Profit"). And, look, this is obviously a company with issues, a term The Business Press Maven's psychopharmacologist is always throwing at him. But that just underscores the need for complete coverage, especially if the company lays out the contradictory results right there in the press release. That should be the story, or my name is not Rufus T. Firefly.