The 5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street: Oct. 22

5. Steve Jobs Makes a Lousy Call

So Steve Jobs was compelled to hop on his company's conference call on Tuesday. And why not? Apple ( AAPL) had more than one great story to tell. In fact, it was poised to dominate the headlines for all the right reasons all week long.

We imagine any chief executive would have killed to have had the set up Jobs had coming into the week. There was the company's mindboggling $20 billion in quarterly revenue to report on Tuesday, followed by the unveiling of the ultra-thin MacBook Air on Wednesday. The ball was teed up. The fences had been moved in. All Jobs had to do was swing, make contact and he was guaranteed a homerun.

So what does Jobs do instead? Jumps on the conference call and proceeds to -- pardon the mixed metaphor -- fumble the ball.

"I'd like to comment on the avalanche of tablets poised to enter the market in the coming months," said Jobs. (Uh, why?) "First, it appears to be just a handful of credible entrants, not exactly an avalanche." (Um, had someone mentioned an avalanche?) "Second, almost all of them use seven-inch screens as compared to iPad's near 10-inch screen."

And then Jobs proceeded to devolve into a soliloquy on why his competitors' tablets would be "dead on arrival" due to their fragmented operating systems and their foolhardy commitment to the simply unusable 7-inch screen.

"Their manufacturers will learn the painful lesson that their tablets are too small and increase the size next year, thereby abandoning both customers and developers who jumped on the seven-inch bandwagon with an orphan product," warned the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. "Sounds like lots of fun ahead," said Jobs.

Now ... Jobs may have a point, but when you're the head of Apple and you've just reported $20 billion in revenue for a quarter, is it really necessary to take cheap shots at those who haven't had a fraction of your success -- and at products that haven't even hit the market?

Interestingly enough, when asked about his own business, Jobs' clairvoyance disappeared. "I try to not predict, I try to just report." What a difference a few minutes makes.

And of course, Jobs' comments only succeeded in legitimizing the competition, opening the door for them to introduce to a whole new audience some of the reasons some people don't exactly love Apple.

"For those of us who live outside of Apple's distortion field, we know that seven-inch tablets will actually be a big portion of the market and we know that Adobe Flash support actually matters to customers who want a real web experience," said Jim Balsillie, Co-CEO at Research In Motion ( RIMM). "We also know that while Apple's attempt to control the ecosystem and maintain a closed platform may be good for Apple, developers want more options and customers want to fully access the overwhelming majority of web sites that use Flash. We think many customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple."

TheStreet Says: Nice move, Steve. Maybe next week you can fill us all in on why CB radios and 8-track players are no match for the awesome power of the iPad.

4. TARP Price Tag: Oh, Did We Not Mention Fannie and Freddie?

It seems like just yesterday -- well, maybe it was two weeks ago -- that the federal government was patting itself on the back for the success of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The mother of all bailouts, and in particular the bailout of crash poster child AIG ( AIG) was looking like it might cost the U.S. taxpayer a lot less than originally anticipated.

But while the Obama administration was busy praising TARP at its two-year anniversary party, critics were contending that taxpayers shouldn't forget about the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, conveniently not included as part of the TARP price tag. The critics were right.

On Thursday, the government announced that the estimate for the Fannie/Freddie bailout would more than double the original bailout package in the next three years, possibly as much as $215 billion. The worst-case scenario would mean that when all is said and done, Fannie and Freddie would have received $363 billion over three years. Even in the best-case scenario, the government projects forking over another $73 billion to Fannie and Freddie.

So much for the White House projection that losses from TARP would tally $50 billion, at most, down from a previously estimated $341 billion earlier this year. The stream of positively spun TARP news really began in May, with the government readying a sale of its Citigroup ( C) stake and estimating at that time that the TARP price tag would go down by at least $11 billion (thank you, Citi). By May, the government was also saying that the AIG bailout estimated costs had been reduced by $3 billion, too.

Of course, Main Street will be angered by the latest Fannie/Freddie estimate, and they might siphon off any projected cost savings from TARP in the end. But putting the taxpayer bill aside for a moment, it's the bigger picture about the mortgage crisis that really aggravates.

Ever since the federal government decided to tout TARP, the news flow related to the housing crisis has taken a turn for the worse. The government jinxed itself, and Fannie and Freddie's never-ending need for the government handout is just the latest example of a mortgage crisis that won't release its grip on the U.S., or on the financial behemoths that were behind the crisis in the first place.

On Wednesday, the New York Federal Reserve teamed up with money management giants Pacific Investment Management Co., Blackrock ( BLK), and (drum roll, please) Freddie Mac, in demanding that Bank of America ( BAC) and Bank of New York Mellon ( BK) buy back mortgage-linked loans that Bank of America mortgage lender Countrywide Financial failed to service properly.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Attorney Generals representing all 50 states is investigating suspect foreclosure practices at the big banks, leading Bank of America, JPMorgan Financial ( JPM) and PNC Financial ( PNC) to suspend foreclosure proceeding in at least some, if not all states.

Early next year the Obama administration is expected to propose replacing or reshaping Fannie and Freddie. That would be something to celebrate. And it's likely the news of the Fannie/Freddie bailout price tag going up will, before long, be offset by another rosy prediction about the TARP price tag going even lower still. Yet as the last two weeks in the mortgage crisis epic have shown, no single success in getting out of the mortgage mess means that the worst housing crisis in U.S. history won't rear its ugly head, again, and again.

TheStreet Says: Fannie and Freddie -- they're like the undead, except they eat money instead of brains.

3. Cell Therapeutics: More Talk, No Walk

Cell Therapeutics ( CTIC) is doing what it does best: talking the talk. Walking the walk? Not so much.

On Tuesday, the questionably managed company announced that it was on track to file its experimental lymphoma drug, pixantrone, with European regulators later this quarter. Not that it had filed, just that it was on its way to filing.

It's not that Cell Therapeutics is a little behind, it's that it's not even remotely close to living up to its stated goals. Management told investors in July 2009 that they could expect pixantrone to win U.S. approval in the fourth quarter of that year, followed by approval in Europe in the third quarter of 2010. Pixantrone's U.S. approval? Not yet. European approval? Still not even filed. A Novartis ( NVS) partnership? Nowhere in sight. A break-even quarter in December 2009 followed by a quarterly profit sometime in 2010? Don't hold your breath.

>>Cell Therapeutics: Empty Promises

Tuesday's press release is a great example of what seems to be the Cell Therapeutics way. Rather than, say, explain or apologize for its inability to deliver results, management opts to change the subject. Apparently it's far easier to count on the laziness of potential investors and the short-term memory of its current and much maligned shareholders than to actually fulfill its mission of developing potentially lifesaving drugs.

In Tuesday's announcement, Cell announced with some level of glee that European regulators had approved the company's plan to study pixantrone in kids diagnosed with lymphoma and solid tumors. Getting regulatory sign-off on this so-called Pediatric Investigation Plan, or PIP, "clears the way" for the company to submit pixantrone for regulatory approval in Europe, the company said. Sadly, PIPs are a routine part of European regulatory filings -- something done by just about every company seeking to market a drug in Europe.

Cell Therapeutics doesn't even know if pixantrone will help kids with cancer because the company has never run a pediatric clinical trial. In Tuesday's press release, Cell Therapeutics says pixantrone studies in kids won't likely be conducted until after the drug is approved in Europe.

How likely is European approval? Well, given that the company is trying to get pixantrone approved in Europe on the exact same data that it was rejected by U.S. regulators, we'd rank its chances right up there with a snowball in hell. And the FDA didn't just reject pixantrone, the agency and its outside panel of cancer experts practically laughed the drug right out of Washington D.C.

TheStreet Says: Hey Cell Therapeutics, while all this yapping might be therapeutic for you, it ain't doing much for the rest of us.

2. Tribune's "Frat" Boys Get Expelled

Well, it seems it only took the fostering of an almost brazen sexual atmosphere, bankruptcy, more than a dash of mismanagement and a scathing New York Times takedown for the head of Tribune Company to take the hint.

According to a report from the Chicago Tribune this week, chief executive officer Randy Michaels is headed for the exit. Then again, it hasn't happened yet so maybe it was just wishful thinking.

It's more than likely that the Times' portrayal of the management frat-house created under Michaels' reign may have proved a tipping point. Indeed, comparing the Tribune Company to a frat house has become such a ubiquitous analogy that one of the Chicago Tribune's columnists felt it was time to declare that, really, for the grunts in the trenches, life was no party.

We're sure it's not. That kind of behavior was reserved for management. But given the severity, or even just the sheer volume, of the accusations being levied, how in the heck did Michaels make it this far?

Michaels would mark the second high profile departure from the company in about a week. Last week, so called "chief innovation officer" Lee Abrams resigned after sending out an inappropriate email to the company. That sure was "innovative" -- as in an innovative way to get canned.

TheStreet Says: Where on earth could Abrams have gotten that idea that it was cool to send out inappropriate emails? Oh, right, from Randy "Neidermeyer" Michaels.

1. Fox to Fans: Drop Dead

News Corporation's ( NWSA) Fox network is playing hardball in its negotiations with the cable outfits that distribute its content. Naturally, they're seeking more money, and if they don't get it, well, they're pulling the plug.

Fox pulled access to 19 Fox regional sports channels from Dish Network ( DISH) after their agreement expired on Oct. 1. No progress has been made in those negotiations. This week it was Cablevision's ( CVC) turn to get the brushback pitch. The Fox blackout prevented more than 3 million sports fans from watching both the New York Giants football game as well as baseball's National League Championship Series last weekend.

"In an effort to avoid this very situation, we started this process in May and made numerous reasonable proposals to Cablevision," Fox networks affiliate sales and marketing president Mike Hopkins said in an October 16 press release. "However, we remain far apart and Cablevision has made it clear that they do not share our view regarding the value of Fox's networks."

Predictably, no progress has been made. "We remain willing to negotiate and hope that future talks ultimately will be productive, but as of now Cablevision has declined to counter our most recent proposal," Hopkins said. "Regrettably, their efforts were focused more on calls for government intervention than constructive negotiations."

Indeed, with pressure mounting, many feel that it's time for the FCC to step in and take action.

"The FCC's role has been limited," FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said on Wednesday. "But the FCC is a consumer protection agency and, if the Fox-Cablevision dispute proves anything, it is that consumers are clearly not being protected. I believe the Commission should take a very serious look at whether 'good faith' negotiations are indeed occurring."

So, let's all agree that consumers and their feelings aren't figuring into any part of this equation. Fox, it seems, is perfectly willing to push around its distributors. But what about Fox's other partners -- you know, the NFL and MLB? How exactly are they feeling about Fox preventing millions of their fans from seeing the games? How about Fox's advertisers?

TheStreet Says: Fox may get the bump it's looking for, but we're betting the NFL and MLB might think twice about a network that's so willing to shove its fans to the sideline the next time contracts come up for distribution.

In light of all this dumbness, we now ask you: Which is this week's dumbest of the dumb stories? Take the poll below to see what TheStreet has to say.

Which is this week's dumbest of the dumb stories?

Steve Jobs Makes a Lousy Call
TARP Price Tag: Oh, Did We Not Mention Fannie and Freddie?
Cell Therapeutics: More Talk, No Walk
Tribune's "Frat" Boys Get Expelled
Fox to Fans: Drop Dead

This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.