Playboy's Bare Market

Investors looking for a boom should first check out Playboy's ( PLA) busts.

The company, whose stock is trading at a five-year-low of less than $2 a share, announced last week that it's closing its DVD business. Late last month, it was reported by the British tabloid The Daily Star that Playboy founder Hugh Hefner is laying off some of his bunnies because of the souring economy.

And more trouble may await the Playboy empire and its shareholders. According to a study published last week by econometricians Terry Pettijohn II and Brian Jungeberg, men tend to look for bigger, more robust, women during a lean economy. The report -- titled Playboy Playmate Curves: Changes in Facial and Body Feature Preferences Across Social and Economic Conditions -- also noted that when times are prosperous, men prefer less grown-up, shorter women with narrower waists.

In a move that has rendered quaint the once risqué miniskirt index, the pair of academics achieved this breakthrough by comparing the measurements from 40 years of Playmates to the economic data of the times.

"When social and economic conditions were difficult, older, heavier, taller Playboy Playmates of the Year with larger waists, smaller eyes, larger waist-to-hip ratios, smaller bust-to-waist ratios, and smaller body mass index values were selected," says the study. "These results suggest that environmental security may influence perceptions and preferences for women with certain body and facial features."

Boiled down to plain English, the paper posits that men are less interested in viewing women purely for sex when the chips are down, preferring to focus on more mature women with the ability to care for them. In short, Playboy's sales may be headed for an even steeper decline.

Whether the good professors are onto something big is debatable. But Playboy's shareholders should heed the good professors' sage barometer as a centerfold for sell.

Dumb-o-meter score: 95 -- Despite the downturn, it's still hard to pity Hef.

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