Will somebody please get Research In Motion's ( RIMM) co-CEOs a thesaurus? How about simply a clue? The mobile device maker reported its fiscal first-quarter results late last week, beating analyst estimates by a penny on the bottom line while missing by an ugly $200 million in sales on the top. Research In Motion also significantly lowered its outlook for the full year, predicting earnings of between $4.25 and $6 per share, down from $7.50. The lowered guidance had traders unloading RIM's stock -- it's down nearly 20% since last Friday and sitting near multiyear lows -- almost as quickly as customers are abandoning its gadgets in favor of Apple's ( AAPL) iPhone and devices powered by Google's ( GOOG) Android operating system. Nevertheless, it's not RIM's wretched results that make us want to juice the Blackberry maker. No, it's the silly semantic games of Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, the company's co-CEOs, at the post-earnings press conference that has us wondering if there is a lick of sense between the pair, let alone a future for the company. After announcing a wide-reaching plan to overhaul its organization through new product launches, cutbacks and layoffs, Balsillie challenged an analyst for referring to his reforms as a "restructuring." "I would not call it a restructuring, and I just think that this is radically mischaracterizing it," replied Balsillie. "When you talk about restructuring, I mean you are talking about an industry in a different kind of situation, and where you are deciding to do certain things and not do certain things, and we just view this as a streamlining." Do certain things? Not do certain things? Streamlining? Sorry dude, we don't get it. Luckily, neither did another analyst on the call who offered "reorganizing" as an alternative. "No, there is not a re-org, no. No, there is no re-org," replied a testy Lazaridis. Not a re-org either? Is it bigger than a bread box? Is 'Who' still on first? "I think this is the right time for us to go back, to step back and just make the system more efficient," danced Balsille before Lazaridis gave it one more try with "streamline plus." OK. Enough already. You don't want to call it a restructuring or reorganization? That's fine with us. We'll just call it ridiculous and leave it at that.
4. Netflix Flux
Is it just us or has there been way too much nonsense at Netflix ( NFLX) lately? The DVD rental and film-streaming company, whose trailing price-to-earnings multiple of 70 times values its stock well past perfection, has performed far from flawlessly over the past week. Not only did the company's Web site go down on Sunday, but last Friday the company clashed with both Sony ( SNE) and a group representing users with hearing difficulties, leading us to ask if its highflying stock may soon be grounded. As for its weekend service woes, Netflix took its time but eventually restored operations, finally allowing its irate customers to stop Twittering their discontent and finish their Mad Men episodes. Despite its recovery, however, the company made subscribers madder still by not offering a reason for the interruption. In an e-mail to Bloomberg, Netflix said that the outage was not caused by a hack attack, yet curiously offered no other information. Thanks a lot guys. At least the cable guy is nice enough to lie when our HBO goes DOA. And if it is indeed a case of cyber-sickos phishing for credit card info, then you better come clean soon before some real damage is done. Speaking of damage, we are not alone in wondering about the long-term harm Netflix will suffer if they cannot arrive at an agreement to get Sony movies back on their "Watch Instantly" platform. The flicks were yanked after the growth of Netflix subscribers hit a certain threshold in a deal between Sony and its pay TV partner, Starz. The removal of Sony movies "could trigger an increase in churn if the films do not soon return," wrote Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible in a research note Monday. Similarly, Stifel Nicolaus analyst Benjamin Mogil said the withdrawal of Sony movies means Netflix may have to renew its deal with Starz "under much higher terms sooner" than the expiration in the first quarter of next year. And if all that weren't enough, an advocacy group for deaf Americans announced it was suing Netflix for failing to provide closed captioning on its streaming online television and movies in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. "While streaming (video) provides more access to entertainment to the general public, it threatens to be yet another barrier to people who are deaf and hard of hearing," said the lawsuit filed by the National Association of the Deaf in a Massachusetts federal court. In our view, Netflix won't need captions if they continue to along this path. The writing will be on the wall.
3. End of the CenturyLink?
Here's a smart play for all you Dumbest fans: Short CenturyLink ( CTL). Why bet against the nation's third largest telecommunications company you ask? Is it a valuation call? Do we know something about CenturyLink's earnings that the market does not? Nothing of the sort. The reason is simple. The schmucks just put their name on a stadium. On Thursday, Qwest Field, home to the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and the MLS Sounders, was officially renamed CenturyLink Field. It was originally called Seahawks Stadium but was renamed in June 2004 when Qwest acquired naming rights. CenturyLink purchased Qwest last year in a $10.6 billion stock deal that included the assumption of nearly $12 billion in debt. Shares of the company are down more than 13% year to date. Remember CMGI Field? How about Enron Field or PSINet Stadium? Well, those stadiums still exist but the companies that sponsored them are long gone. Same goes for the Trans World Dome, Pro Player Stadium and the Adelphia Coliseum. And don't even ask what happened to Citigroup ( C) -- or the New York Mets for that matter -- after the bank ponied up $400 million to have the Mets' new stadium, which opened up in 2009, be called Citi Field. "Although the name of this facility will change; the history, tradition and spirit of the 12th MAN and the Sounders FC supporters will never change," said Seahawks and Sounders FC president Peter McLoughlin, in a statement. He didn't mention CenturyLink's stock price, now did he?
2. Muddier Waters
The already murky waters in which all those tanking Chinese reverse merger stocks swim got muddier this week. And stupider. Carson Block, the controversial short-seller who composes reports critical of Chinese companies through his firm Muddy Waters Research, was the victim of a prank on Tuesday after a false press release alleging the Securities and Exchange Commission had charged him with stock manipulation was posted on Briefingwire.com, which allows the free publication of press releases. The document was quickly deemed to be inauthentic and was subsequently removed from the site. "We've issued no such release," said SEC spokesman John Nester, unwilling to elaborate further on the scam. That's fine, Mr. Nester. Allow us. As has been the case with many of the stocks in the sector, the counterfeit complaint was shoddily created. It was marred by grammatical errors and carried the litigation release number "21053." The true SEC document referred to by that number is the announcement of a permanent injunction against a Victor Ragucci, who was targeted by the SEC for totally unrelated shenanigans back in April 2010. Block is certainly a target in his own right, so the idea that one of his enemies would attempt to defame him is far from a stretch. His scathing research reports have predated the implosions of Rino International and China MediaExpress. A third report, on Duoyuan Global ( DGW), came days before the New York Stock Exchange halted trading in the stock. Block's most recent ruckus involves Sino-Forest ( SNOFF.PK), a Chinese forestry company listed in Canada. Shares of Sino-Forest have plummeted 90% since the company was accused of accounting fraud by Block. Among Sino-Forest's casualties is hedge fund manager John Paulson, who at one point was the company's largest shareholder, but has since sold his stake at an estimated $720 million loss. Paulson, of course, should have known better because he is an expert in creating crappy securities. In case you forgot, it was Paulson who helped "Fabulous" Fab Tourre and his Goldman Sachs ( GS) buddies construct a boatload of built-to-fail mortgage bonds, so he could make a killing shorting them. Luckily, Paulson still has a lot of cash left over from his big bet on gold prices, because, thanks to Mr. Block, his Chinese forest foray has turned to mud. And that's no hoax.
1. Sears' Shakedown
It sure is great to see Sears Holdings ( SHLD) Chairman Eddie Lampert back in the real estate business again. Great for us Dumb-watchers that is, not so much for the entire state of Illinois and 6,000 petrified Sears employees. Sears circulated proposals earlier this week for more than 1 million square feet of space as it explores moving its corporate headquarters away from its Hoffman Estates campus outside Chicago. Sears, which opened its first store in Chicago in 1887, was originally lured to its current 2.4 million square feet site in 1989 as a result of a sweet tax deal from the state reportedly worth $240 million. That deal expires next year which is why the retailer is testing the waters for cheaper and smaller digs outside Illinois. "We do owe it to our associates and shareholders to consider options and alternatives," said Sears in a statement. Malarkey! You owe it to your shareholders to make money by moving something -- anything -- off your shelves instead of wasting precious time playing cash-strapped states against each other for the best handout. You already got your break, so stop schnorring and start selling. Oh sure, we remember a time when Wall Street would have lapped up Lampert's latest penny-pinching ploy. Back during the credit bubble, the hedge fund whiz kid was hailed as the next Warren Buffett for slapping Sears and K-Mart together as a stealth play on rising real estate prices. Unfortunately (for Lampert), that inane idea died with Lehman Brothers. And rather than taking the hint and improving operations, he continued his disastrous strategy of financial engineering by buying back shares at far higher prices. The stock, now around $72, is down 62% from a high of $192 in April 2007, far underperforming fellow retailers like Target ( TGT), Wal-Mart ( WMT) and Kohl's ( KSS). And if Lampert needed a reminder that Wall Street has jumped ship, he got another one this Tuesday when Fitch Ratings downgraded Sears debt, saying it was worried about a "magnitude of decline in profitability and the lack of visibility to turn around operations." Look, we don't know what made a financier like Lampert think he could run one of America's oldest retailers in the first place. But if his grand plan is to starve Sears to death, he should at least give it a proper burial at its ancestral home. -- Written by Gregg Greenberg in New York.