Surely the Greek protestors were not applying the Socratic method this Tuesday when they flooded the streets of Athens just as international debt inspectors were arriving to determine if the country deserves a bailout. You see, had the strikers employed the philosopher's decision-making rules then maybe they would have asked the right questions to arrive at a different -- and smarter -- conclusion. Questions like: 'Hey guys, do you think we should wait until the folks with the money leave the country before we quit work to protest austerity?' What the Hellas guys? You have got to be kidding us. Even American high schoolers are clever enough to hide the kegs when the cops show up. Officials from the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund traveled to Greece earlier this week to survey the impact of previous financial reforms before deciding whether to grant the country additional monetary aid. Also on the group's agenda was a meeting with private creditors to negotiate a bond swap deal to cut Greek debt by 100 billion Euros ($127 billion). And while one would think that this delegation would be hailed as heroes and given the run of the house, from all indications they could barely hail a cab to get to the Greek Parliament house. An estimated 10,000 protesters rallied in central Athens over potential pay cuts with strikers disrupting public transport and other services.
And while Socrates famously said "I only know that I know nothing" -- ignorance is not a viable excuse for the Greek government at this point. They know full well the importance of securing more rescue loans ahead of a 14.5 billion Euro bond repayment due in late March -- even if their countrymen would rather chug hemlock and see what happens.
4. Here's To You Metabolix
We here at the Five Dumbest Lab want to say one word to Metabolix ( MBLX) investors. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics. Yep, you got screwed by plastics. Alright, technically it was bioplastics, but like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate that lone word still won't provide much consolation or clarity to Metabolix stockholders who saw their worlds fall apart last Friday. Shares of the company sank 57% after agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland ( ADM) backed out of their joint venture because of "uncertain" projected financial returns. The joint venture was created in 2006 to produce biodegradable plastics under the brand names Mirel and Mvera as alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. ADM plans to keep the Iowa manufacturing plant after the divorce. Metabolix, which apparently never saw the break-up coming, says it will walk away with the intellectual property rights. "Over the past few years, we have proven the technology at industrial scale and believe that we now have the opportunity to launch this business with a different business model," said Metabolix CEO Richard Eno in a statement. Listen Richard, we know there are no winners when a marriage ends, but it's clear who the loser is in this case. While we appreciate the brave face, it's obviously time for you to take that $72 million of cash on your balance sheet and move on. You spent a solid 6 years trying to make it work with ADM, and you only booked $1.1 million in revenue in the past 12 months. That's just sad. And as for relying on that $6 million Department of Energy grant you received last May, well, that's just not a sustainable business model even if you had viable supply source to replace ADM. But you don't. So don't even try and seduce us into your stock. Wait. You are trying to seduce us. Aren't you?
3. Deen Goes For Green
Celebrity chef Paula Deen, famous for her colossally high-calorie dishes, confirmed Tuesday she has type 2 diabetes. That's tough to stomach. Hopefully she will overcome it. She also announced her new job as a paid spokesperson for Novo Nordisk ( NVO), the drug giant behind the diabetes drug Victoza. Oh lord! That's stomach-turning and even richer than one of her recipes! What's next: Mel Gibson for the United Jewish Appeal? Jerry Sandusky for the Boy Scouts of America? Lindsay Lohan (or Dina Lohan for that matter) for Mothers Against Drunk Driving? The Jersey Shore cast for Mensa? Michael Vick for the PETA? Alec Baldwin for American Airlines ( AMR)? Kim Kardashian for TheKnot.com? Casey Anthony for anything. Yep, Paula Deen is going for the green, which would be fine if she was talking about vegetables. Unfortunately, she's not. And that's what makes this whole deal so unappetizing.
2. Chevron Does Shakespeare
Just as oil giant BP ( BP) suffered the slings and arrows of global opinion following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, fellow oil major Chevron ( CVX) is finding itself in a sea of troubles as a result of its own outrageous misfortunes. Yes, it's all quite tragic. And not just for Chevron stockholders who've seen their shares drop 3% in the past week while the S&P 500 has climbed nearly 1%. Alas, all the world is Chevron's stage, and lately they have been one pretty poor player. Let's start in Nigeria, where Chevron said Tuesday it was still searching for two contractors who remain missing after an offshore rig caught fire Monday. The company said two more workers are still in the hospital with minor burns while 152 were safely rescued. Chevron, which maintains it has no idea what caused the accident, said the natural gas well was still burning Tuesday. The good news from Nigeria, however, is that only about 13 barrels of fuel have been spilled from a rig that pumped out more than 2,000 barrels per day. That is good news compared to the 2,400 barrels that leaked from its drilling platform off the coast of Brazil last November. And Chevron has not even begun to pay for that. And just last month, Brazil's oil industry watchdog ANP issued a third citation against Chevron for the oil spill at the Frade offshore field. ANP, which has not decided upon a full penalty, has the authority to fine Chevron up to 50 million reals ($26.8 million) for each citation. The Brazilian regulator says Chevron failed to put in practice procedures that would slow the depletion of reservoirs at the well. And staying in South America, all's not well for Chevron in Ecuador either. Two weeks ago, an Ecuadoran appeals court upheld last year's landmark $9.5 billion judgment against the company over oil field contamination in the Amazon rain forest. Chevron has delayed paying the penalty so far, and has instead chosen to wage a legal battle in U.S. and international courts to block enforcement of last year's verdict. As a result, don't expect Chevron to do much drilling in Ecuador anytime soon, or for that matter, in Bulgaria, where this Tuesday the government banned Chevron from exploring for shale gas anywhere in the country. Actually, the Bulgarian energy minister said that "Chevron can still have the right to test for oil and gas" -- it just can't use the controversial technology of hydraulic fracturing known as "fracking." To be honest, considering Chevron's luck lately, it's hard to blame the Bulgarians - or anybody - for cutting the company off. Because if the question is to drill or not to drill? with regard to Chevron, well, we don't have to sleep or dream to come up with the answer. Right now it seems pretty clear.
1. Duncan's Gambling Goof
Listen up folks, there is no gambling at Rick's Cafe, no fighting in the War Room and there is absolutely, positively no betting allowed at the New York Stock Exchange ( NYX). Come again? Yep, it's true. On Tuesday, the group in charge of regulations at the NYSE sent out a memorandum to its members prohibiting "certain gambling activities on NYSE premises." According to the warning, "book making, numbers games, or other organized for-profit betting activity relating to sporting activities, other outside events or games of chance" are all banned under the rules of the exchange. In other words, buying risky Chinese IPOs from a guy who takes a cut of every transaction is no problem, but betting on the Giants football game this weekend will get you punished. Oh Big Brother! And speaking of football, you floor traders better not let NYSE CEO Duncan Niederauer catch you picking Super Bowl boxes next month. Those "sporting event pools" are off limits too. In fact, even "the display or visible possession of gambling devices" will get you in hot water, so please hide your iPhones when calling your bookie. Look Duncan, why don't you give the guys a break and let them gamble illegally when they aren't gambling legally? It's a victimless crime and with electronic trading taking over, they don't have much to do anyway. Besides, you clearly rolled the dice with that big Deutsche Boerse merger, and all the uncertainty over that deal is obviously keeping a lid on your stock.
If anything, you should be spending your time lobbying regulators ahead of the European Commission's Feb. 1 vote on the merger. Right now, that's the long shot you should be worried about. Not some guys practicing their profession. -- Written by Gregg Greenberg in New York.