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If you think Wall Street loves layoff announcements, take a look at how the business media greet them. It is an ultimate irony that reporters -- busy whining in their own newsrooms about how the product they produce will break bad if a single hair-care-product columnist is laid off -- do so little critical thinking about layoffs at other companies. There's never a sense that announced cuts often don't materialize ... or do, but at a higher cost, as buyout packages have to be sweetened to find takers.

Worst of all (see, uh, that hair-care columnist), there is never a sense (so vital to the well-being of investors) that cuts have potential costs. That brings us to Business Week -- no stranger to layoffs -- and its decent coverage dealing with layoffs at Pfizer ( PFE).

The big ditty on Pfizer concluded the way many articles on the company do not: It discussed how Pfizer will sell drugs in the absence of so many salespeople, whose layoffs have been recently announced.

Mind you, The Business Press Maven is no populist on the subject of layoffs. I understand that redundancies grow over time in workforces and that sometimes the best long-term survival tactic is to get leaner quickly.

Just the same, Business Week did well to look further than others have: the back-of-the-envelope calculations on money saved, fed to them by company officials. More importantly for investors, even assuming that an amount of money near that will actually be saved, who will pick up the workload of the employees thrown overboard and nibbled to death by the sharks?

To wit: if you kill all the salespeople, how are you going to peddle product?

The question carries with it answers. I asked it, in one of my most telepathic calls of 2006, when Pfizer announced it was cutting 20% of its sales force and then, two days later, announced how great its pipeline was. If its pipeline were so great, I prophesized, wouldn't the company want people around to sell what was in it? It turns out, of course, that it pulled its most promising drug in no time.

Business Week starts the story looking large. The pharmaceutical salesperson, the article posits, is all but dead. Layoffs have not done the trick alone; there are regulators wary of all the incentives and junkets, and there are the doctors themselves, sick, I guess, of having good-looking twentysomethings call on their offices. (Geek alert.)

So where does this leave the pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders? Read to the bottom of the Business Week story, and you'll see: They're in an odiferous little state, trying to replace a tried-and-true sales method. They are experimenting with routing doctors to promotional Web sites. (If this works as well as those twentysomethings, The Business Press Maven will eat socks on the corner of Wall and Broad.) They are also playing around with fewer salespeople doing more -- in other words, a more streamlined force actually working better.

Business Week lets this claim go with a trite crack about fewer pens and sticky pads being dropped off at doctors' offices. But sales -- as anyone like The Business Press Maven who has been in it knows -- is a numbers game. Saying less will be more might sound OK, but as a realistic claim, it is not arable.

A Read on Rates

If an article in this morning's Wall Street Journal stands as an example of the emerging consensus on interest rates and their effect on the market, well, The Business Press Maven approves.

In the past year, the first consensus on interest rates was unadulterated rot. It held that the Fed was about to lower interest rates. The business media were used to rates going ever lower, and they stayed true to the thing they were most used to. The Business Press Maven shouted himself silly about how the media were being almost willfully naïve in misreading Federal Open Market Committee notes.

Then, about the middle of last year came a better reading of the FOMC notes, if no accurate consensus on whether rates were going up or down and what that meant for the market.

Before all patience was leeched from my body, I finally came out and said what the Journal did today: If rates stay right where they are, Dieynu, as the Jewish people say on Passover -- that would be enough. In the past generation plus, we have been on a wild ride in terms of interest rates, but for large swaths of time, rates remained constant. And constant, especially here at the low end, is great news economically.

Look Out for No. 1

The Business Press Maven spent the better part of the past two weeks talking about the automobile industry and how the business media were making a big mistake in using the No. 1 ranking as a legitimate measuring stick for the automobile industry. The quest for No. 1 causes so many mistakes: giving away cars, a la General Motors ( GM), for example, just to keep the ranking, which carries no prize money. So what does Forbes do just to spite The Business Press Maven?

It gives its old-line auto writer free rein to talk about what a blow it will be to GM to lose its ranking. "The Pain of Second Place" is the name of the article, and I use that term loosely. I won't dignify such outdated idiocy with another word.

Get to the Source

Finally, what would happen if some French newsletter you've never heard of published an unsourced story on a potential merger? If you were a modern news outlet like Reuters, you'd pick up that deflated ball of a story and run with it, writing in a passive voice that the deal was "thought to have been signed last week." Check out the lead:

PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) -- Sanofi-Aventis and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. could announce a friendly merger deal within the next few weeks to create the world's biggest drugs company, according to a report on Monday.

In an unsourced story, French financial newsletter La Lettre de l'Expansion said a pre-merger deal was thought to have been signed last week.

For all I know, it could have been. But one newsletter plus no sources does not equal a story, in The Business Press Maven's divine book. Beware.

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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