(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 writing this from a small rocky island off the long rocky coast of Maine, where yesterday he bore witness to an island-wide fish face competition. Islanders made fish faces, some quite convincing, for prizes and -- of course -- bragging rights. I tell you this because purposeful goofiness has a rightful place in life, but misplaced goofiness -- like the kind
Here's what we're looking at: There is much criticism, all deserved, about the professional prognosticators of Wall Street and the media. Such is the downside of such nonprofessional professions. You don't really have to be licensed or schooled like, say, a doctor, to make predictions about our economic system, where so much depends on them. I'll be giving out the Greg Stroh Award to the one(s) who come(s) the closest. And to understand better how our system works, we'll see if people who send in pretty blind guesses do, on average, any better or worse than the so-called pros of prediction, who presumably have sources and more refined methods of prediction. From predictions, let's segue into recaps. Let's examine two different ways of looking at Caterpillar's ( CAT) same bad earnings, which were reported Friday and sent the stock tumbling. We'll look at the right way (the one I side with) first. The Wall Street Journal went with the almost-deceptively titled "
Caterpillar's Net Slides on U.S. Results." Why was this almost deceptive? Well, we could've used a subheadline about international sales because the company's strength seems more resilient than U.S. weakness, which was a function of operational mistakes, the weak housing and auto markets and pricing pressures in gasoline. And a good chunk of the article rightly focused on how, all around the world, there is a clamor for infrastructure work, and Caterpillar is capitalizing, big time. This, too, gets at a larger truth about globalization, one that gets past all the polemics. Whatever your political stance, through the cold, key eye of the investor, this is one of the American economy's most substantive, sustainable positives. Don't overlook it. The Wall Street Journal did not. But the Chicago Tribune, by comparison, did. Its article, ironically, has a subheadline that mentions international sales: "Caterpillar Profit Plunges: Net falls 21% despite strong offshore sales." But after that? International sales are only mentioned ever so briefly and really only to note that the "booming sales to still-strong offshore markets" had been expected to offset the domestic troubles.
Anyhow, read both articles and contrast the weighting given to the international markets. You'll get two totally different senses (one wrong, the other mine) of how the modern, global economy works and how much it will help companies either thrive or get propped up during more difficult domestic times. Because I led with a plea to readers, let me close with one. In
my most recent weekend book review, I set up a steel-cage match between two well-regarded money managers/authors who say something totally contradictory about what investors should look for in terms of company management. In his investment classic, Peter Lynch said that a company should be capable of being run by an idiot, because eventually one will be in charge. Just the opposite, argued Russell Cleveland in a new book: Investors should look for a company run by a genius. I polled readers for their thoughts and perceptions, and an interesting thing happened. From my iPhone articles to last week's writing on AMD's ( AMD) and Intel's ( INTC) gross-margin struggles, I got a vast spectrum of reader responses -- from well-reasoned tomes that keep me up thinking at night to those from people who manage to write emails with crayons. But on this subject, I got complete radio silence. Is it a false choice? To me, it seems like an important distinction, an intellectual either/or that should form the basis of many investment decisions. Or did the column just bore the enamel off your teeth? Anyhow, while you're submitting your iPhone guess, give it a think. And let me know.