With all deference to Spinal Tap vocalist David St. Hubbins, the line between "stupid and clever" is not "fine" at all. In fact, it's pretty fat. And based on how the folks at Apple ( AAPL) and Research In Motion ( RIMM) spent the past week, you can see how fat it is. Let's start with the clever side, shall we? Speaking of lines, hundreds of people queued up outside Apple stores worldwide last Friday to get their geeky little hands on the new iPhone 4S, one of the last products developed under the late, great Steve Jobs. At the New York store on Fifth Avenue with its super chic glass entrance, Apple enthusiasts stretched half way down the block, leaving some tourists wondering if the Wall Street protestors had taken a wrong turn and found themselves on Manhattan's opulent Upper East Side. Silly tourists! That field trip from Zucotti Park to John Paulson's mansion took place last Tuesday. Don't worry, maybe you can catch them the next time the revolution takes the number 4 train uptown. Anyway, the cheering masses certainly offered Apple's brass a reason to revel after what had been a trying time at the company. Most Apple watchers felt deflated when new CEO Tim Cook introduced an upgraded iPhone 4 instead of a brand-spanking new iPhone 5 earlier this month. And moods darkened still at the passing of Jobs, the company's guiding light, shortly thereafter. So the crowds that greeted the new gadget must have heartened Apple execs, almost as much as the reported 1 million in opening day sales. The iPhone 4, for those keeping track, sold 600,000 units in its first 24 hours. It also pushed the stock more than 3% higher Monday, giving it a market cap of $390 billion and making it the most valuable company in the world. Of course, those gains were erased merely two trading days later when Apple missed analyst estimates by 23 cents, although Wall Street's sell-siders have deemed the whiff more a one-time event than the beginning of something broader. And by something broader we mean Google ( GOOG) and its Android-based products seriously denting Apple's dominance, as opposed to a surge from RIM, which further entrenched itself at the other end of the clever/stupid spectrum after what was clearly a Hebdomas Horribilis for the company. (For those not brushed up on their Latin, that's 1/52 of an Annus Horribilis.) The company's signature BlackBerry product enraged users as a result of a global outage that lasted most of last week, even as RIM's counterparts at Apple were enjoying a warm customer reception to their new smartphone. To compensate angry consumers, the firm offered not money but free apps this past Monday "as an expression of appreciation for their patience during the recent service disruptions." "We have apologized to our customers and we will work tirelessly to restore their confidence," said co-CEO Michael Lazaridis in a statement. If he really wants to catch Apple, then RIM better turn it up to 11, to use Spinal Tap-speak once again. Otherwise, RIM stock, already down 60% this year, could see yet another really, really big bottom.
4. Cliggott's Last Call
Don't worry about getting the hook Doug Cliggott. It's not you. It's them. Alright, it's you too. But at least you're not alone. Cliggott is out as U.S. equity strategist for Credit Suisse Group AG ( CS), according to a Bloomberg report last Saturday. Cliggott is apparently still working for the Zurich-based bank, yet will no longer publicly make the firm's S&P 500 forecasts after his calls proved to be the least accurate of any prognosticator on the Street. In January 2010, Cliggott called for the S&P 500 to be unchanged for the year. Unfortunately (for him), the index added 13% to finish at 1,258. His year-end estimate in September 2010 was 1,075, making him the Street's biggest loser in a Bloomberg survey. Cliggott's final call for the bank came on Aug. 22 of this year, when he reduced his year-end S&P estimate to 1,100 from 1,275, only to see the index rally more than 7% to its current level back above 1,200. Oh man. Talk about a cold streak. This guy should forget Wall Street and take his skills to Vegas to work as a cooler. Regardless of Cliggot's terrible timing, all that bearishness leads one to wonder why Credit Suisse would hire such a nabob of negativism in the first place. Were they not aware that the role of strategist is generally reserved for market cheerleaders? What in the name of Abby Joseph Cohen were they thinking bringing on such a downbeat dude? That said, even the most bullish strategists are not immune to getting the boot in today's tense Wall Street environment. Bank of America-Merrill Lynch's ( BAC) chief U.S. equity strategist, David Bianco, was squeezed out of a job last month only three days after hiking his12-month S&P forecast to a heady 1,450. So maybe it's just safest to stick with the pack. Ironically, if Cliggott wanted to make a prescient bearish call, then he should have taken aim at his employer, not the S&P. Since Cliggott joined Credit Suisse in October 2009, the bank's stock has lost more than 50% of its market value. The S&P, on the other hand, is up over 10% since his arrival. At the time of his hiring, Cliggott said he was "especially pleased to be joining Credit Suisse at a time when the Bank has so much momentum." Well, he was right about that much at least.
3. Pork Fries Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart ( WMT) keeps repeating that its China chief did not get chopped over bad pork. But we still think something's not kosher over there. The world's biggest retailer said Monday that Ed Chan, the president of Wal-Mart China since 2007, is stepping down to be replaced by Scott Price, president of Wal-Mart Asia. A company spokesman emphasized that Chan's departure was for personal reasons and unrelated to the recent charges that Wal-Mart was passing off regular pork as higher-priced organic meat in the city of Chongqing, an accusation which resulted in a fine, the arrests of two employees and 13 temporary store closures. Wal-Mart currently boasts 353 stores and a workforce of approximately 100,000 in China. "There is no correlation", said Wal-Mart spokesman Anthony Rose. Really Mr. Rose? Literally and figuratively speaking, it sure sounds like a pig in a poke to us. It turns out that Chan is not the only Wal-Mart executive in China taking off. Clara Wong, senior vice president for human resources in China, also quit this week for personal reasons, although once again Rose denies l'affaire du porc Chinois had anything to do with her leaving. And you know what they say, one's a point, two's a trend. And the collusion may not all be on Wal-Mart's side either. Since 2006, Wal-Mart has been busted by Chongqing's cops almost two dozen times for selling expired or uninspected food and false advertising. And while food safety is a sensitive issue in China, especially after the tainted infant formula episode in 2008, many industry analysts say Chongqing officials are unfairly cracking down on Wal-Mart in order to gain political points ahead of big leadership changes in the coming year. Wal-Mart says it's cooperating with Chongqing investigators, but like their counterparts in China, the party bosses in Bentonville, Ark., have historically kept a tight lid on information coming out of the company. And as the famous philosopher once said, "Knowledge is power." You know who that philosopher was? Francis Bacon. Yep, like the "bacon" that comes from a pig. You see. It all comes together. Who's conspiracy theory is crazy now, huh?
2. Einhorn's Coffee Clash
Hedge fund assassin David Einhorn scaled Green Mountain Coffee ( GMCR) in front of a live audience Monday. Unfortunately for a few bullish analysts, he scaled it like a fish as opposed to a mountain. Speaking at the 7th annual Value Investing Congress, Einhorn filleted the high flying maker of Keurig single-cup coffee machines in a 110-slide Powerpoint presentation titled "GAAP-uccino". Of course, the assembly of hedge fund managers who paid big bucks to hear Einhorn didn't wait until slide number two before opening fire on the stock, sending it down more than 10% by day's end to $82.50. Aside from taking the company's financial disclosures and capital spending to task, Einhorn, who gained market-mover status by mauling Lehman Brothers in a similar manner, said that using one of Green Mountain's single serve cups "is a very expensive way to drink coffee at home." Honestly, we're not sure about that particular contention unless he is comparing it to brewing up a pot of Chock full o'Nuts in dad's old Mr. Coffee machine. Nevertheless, it's hard to fault Einhorn's other calculations because you just know the man does his homework. And if bringing down Lehman was not proof enough of Einhorn's research prowess, simply check out the 40% drop in shares of St. Joe ( JOE) since he proclaimed the Florida land bank a short candidate in a 139-slide presentation at last year's conference. Right now the big loser on the other side of Einhorn's St. Joe trade is mutual fund manager Bruce Berkowitz, who has vainly (in both senses of the word) fought back by loading up on even more shares of the company. In the case of Green Mountain, Einhorn's challengers include Akshay Jagdale of KeyBanc Capital Markets and Janney Capital Markets' Mitchell Pinheiro, both of whom defended the company in research notes released Tuesday. Jagdale reiterated his buy recommendation, saying that Keurig single-cup coffee machines will climb from around 8% of U.S. households currently to 22% by 2013, no matter how many slides Einhorn shows his hedgie buddies. And Pinheiro also reaffirmed his buy rating, while criticizing Einhorn for ignoring "factual evidence of strong market takeaway performance in the housewares and coffee categories." Jagdale and Pinheiro also restated their price targets of $120 and $125 respectively for Green Mountain shares clearly steep climbs in the current environment for such a highly contested stock. And while Einhorn may not win every contest he enters -- for examples, see Yahoo! ( YHOO), New Century Financial and the New York Mets -- he does tend to create more than his share of losers, which is why Messrs. Jagdale and Pinheiro may want to have a coffee klatch with the company before this coffee clash with Einhorn boils over and burns them.
1. Snakebit by Crocs
Just when Crocs ( CROX) investors thought it was safe to get back in the water...yeah, you know what happened...CHOMP! Traders took a serious bite out of the shoemaker's stock Tuesday, sending it down almost 40% to just over $16 after the company issued a weak outlook for its fiscal third quarter because of soft sales in its consumer direct business and lower than anticipated margins. Crocs said it now sees earnings of 31 to 33 cents a share when it reports on Oct. 27, well below its previous guidance for a profit of 40 cents a share. Revenue is expected to range between $273 million and $275 million vs. a prior projection of $280 million. Prior to the revision, the average estimate for Crocs' quarter among Wall Street analysts was right in line with the company's guidance at 40 cents a share on revenue of $280.5 million. It seems the lemmings on the sell side may have gotten a bit too used to simply filling in the blanks in the old Excel spreadsheet on this one. Prior to this warning, Crocs was a model of earnings consistency, beating Wall Street's consensus profit view more than 90% of the time, according to research from Birinyi Associates. That track record helped the company regain some Street cred after its shares free-fell from $70 in October 2007 to $2 in October 2008, but it may have also led analysts to get lazy with the channel checks. On Monday, before the warning, Crocs was still the ultimate comeback story of the last 5 years. Its shares were trading above $26...the sky was blue, the birds were singing...and then...CHOMP! For the fourth quarter ending in December, Crocs expects year-over-year percentage growth in the low teens from its 2010 quarterly total of $179.2 million. Wall Street's estimate is for revenue of $220.8 million in the quarter, implying an increase of roughly 23%. That consensus, of course, will shortly be taken down, yet one would hope that Crocs is being conservative with its fourth-quarter guidance so as not to repeat this week's catastrophe. As a rule, Wall Street analysts don't like to be snake-bitten or, in this case, Crocs-bitten, by management. Fool them once, shame on you. Fool them twice...you know...CHOMP! -- Written by Gregg Greenberg in New York.