5. Herbalife Hysteria For the love of Barnum and Bailey! The Herbalife ( HLF) circus has officially grown larger than its warring clowns. Herbalife insanity hit new heights this week, even without the help of the hedge fund hotshots responsible for the frenzy in the company's stock. Shares of the supplement seller sank 8% to $40 Monday on the news that the Federal Trade Commission was shutting down Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, a totally unrelated Kentucky-based direct-sales company, for operating a pyramid scheme. This latest act in the Herbalife three-ring circus -- those rings currently being occupied by activist investors Bill Ackman, Dan Loeb and Carl Icahn -- came only a single trading day after the insane on-air battle between long-time enemies Icahn and Ackman. That's right, folks. No Ackman. No Icahn. No Loeb. No problem, it's still fun for investors of all ages. The spectacle actually started Monday morning when the FTC posted a media advisory on its Web site announcing an afternoon press conference in Lexington, Kentucky, regarding an action against an "alleged pyramid scheme." The FTC's cute little tease titillated traders into dumping their shares of both Herbalife (Ackman's $1 billion short and Loeb's long), as well as fellow direct marketer Nu Skin ( NUS) (a reported Loeb short). (Icahn's position in both stocks remains unclear. His position that CNBC's Scott Wapner is a meanie has not changed since last Friday as far as we know.) Of course, the Herbalife carnival would not be complete without barking from CNBC's Herb Greenberg. Herb was quick to point out that any government activities would likely come from its L.A. bureau where Herbalife is based, rather than Lexington. Herb was quickly proven right when CNBC started flashing alerts that did not expose the mystery scammer's true identity, but confirmed it was not Herbalife. That honor would be held for the day's real ringmaster, C. Steven Baker, the director of the FTC's Midwest region. Once CNBC had completed its sideshow, Baker stepped up to the mic at 1 p.m. and revealed that Uncle Sam's true target was the non-publicly traded Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing. "Pyramid schemes are more like icebergs," Baker said. "At any point, most people must and will be underwater financially." Yep, Mr. Baker, there's a sucker born every minute, just like P.T. Barnum proclaimed. This Herbalife extravaganza, however, is truly turning into one for the ages.
4. Yum Cries Fowl A batch of bad Chinese chicken cooked Yum's ( YUM) goose. Now here come the vultures. The official Xinhua news agency confirmed on Friday that chicken sold to KFC's parent Yum Brands in China contained excessive levels of chemicals. The Shanghai Municipal Food Safety Committee said KFC's checks on its suppliers were sloppy, and that it found extreme levels of antibiotics and steroids in the restaurant's supplies. First of all ... ick! The very thought of biting into a drumstick that contains more banned substances than Lance Armstrong makes us ill. Second of all ... ouch! Yum warned the market in early January that its China sales were being jeopardized due to its chicken-supplier problems, but we really thought it would have died down by now. This most recent report only adds to the reputational injury the fast food chain has already sustained in its largest market. Yum shares have fallen half a percent in the past month due to its China woes, even as the S&P 500 has surged almost 8%. For the record, shares of McDonald's ( MCD) are slightly outpacing the market over the same period, even though the company admitted to a similar chicken-supplier problem in China. McDonald's CEO Don Thompson said last Wednesday the chicken scare "minimally impacted" McDonald's sales in China during the fourth quarter, although it is weighing on its sales so far this year. The drop in Yum's stock has spurred a slew of class-action lawyers -- yes, those are the vultures -- to sue the company in the past week. The lawsuits allege that Yum "knew but failed to adequately disclose" months ago both the slowdown in its China sales, as well as its chicken-supplier problems. Honestly, we don't know whether the plaintiffs have a leg to stand on in this high-stakes game of chicken. Nevertheless, we do suggest that McDonald's beef up its supplier checks all over the globe. The last thing Mickey Ds needs is for those ravenous class-action lawyers to have a cow over its burgers.
3. No More Johnson Jokes Sorry, Dumbest fans, but we're going to play J.C. Penney's ( JCP) latest dumb episode straight. No jokes. No puns. No pith. Just boring old news. You want to know why? Simple. We frankly have no clever remarks left in our cupboard to hurl at the retailer. We admitted as much last November when we capitulated to CEO Ron "No More Sales" Johnson in the wake of his holiday-sale announcement. So what's our response to Tuesday's news that Johnson is bringing back sales at the struggling retailer? What more can we do when he says this latest maneuver is not a "deviation" from his strategy but an "evolution"? Nada. We're tapped out. "Our sales have gone backward a little more than we expected, but that doesn't change the vision or the strategy," Johnson told the AP. "We made changes, and we learned an incredible amount. That is what's informing our tactics as we go forward." Sure, Ron. Penney lost $433 million, or $1.98 per share, during the first nine months of its current fiscal year, compared with a loss of $65 million, or 30 cents, last year. Total sales dropped 23% to $9.1 billion. Next month, analysts expect Penney to post a loss of 17 cents on sales of $4.22 billion for the fourth quarter. Great job, Ron. Penney won't divulge the number of sales events it has planned for 2013. Yet it did confirm its new strategy of displaying the "manufacturer's suggested retail price" next to Penney's "everyday" price. Except, of course, for merchandise that is part of exclusive partnerships with brands like Nicole Miller and Mango, in which case it will only show J.C. Penney's price. "There are no makeup prices here," Johnson said. "It's all about trying to communicate what it's worth to the customer." Right, Ron. "A year ago, we were launching a major transformation and didn't know what to expect," he said. "Today, I know what happened. Our team has a year's worth of history. This is going to be a great year because the new JCP is coming to life for customers." Whatever you say, Ron.
2. Goings, Goings, GoneTupperware ( TUP) may have beaten the Street this week, but CEO Rick Goings better think twice before stepping into a New York City taxicab. Tupperware posted net income of $74.5 million, or $1.71 per share after one-time adjustments, in its fourth quarter. In the same period last year, the company booked a profit of $86.9 million, or $1.50 per share. Wall Street analysts expected income of $1.68 per share. Shares of Tupperware spiked over 5% on Tuesday's earnings beat. Those are just the numbers, though. The real fun came during the conference call when Goings went off on a question from Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Olivia Tong over Tupperware's lack of U.S. success. "We are a high-quality product and a brand. Why do we do better in Europe than we do in the U.S.? Hey, take a look at the average brand of cab that you get in New York City -- I mean, they're filthy. They're junk. Get in a cab over here. It's a Mercedes or an Audi," said the Tupperware CEO. Considering a taxi medallion in the Big Apple goes for over $1 million, we imagine that most cabdrivers probably would tell the Tupperware CEO to stuff it. Goings didn't stop there, though. He just kept going and going. "The U.S.A. is basically a Wal-Mart market. Our top-tier products like the Microsteamer or the Ultra Plus, that are 100-year-old products, it's hard to sell them in the U.S. because that's a discount market over there. ... They buy price. Europe buys quality, Japan quality. And our issue is, how do we find the right product mix for the U.S. to make it happen there? And I've got to tell you, Olivia, it is challenging," said Goings. Well, we've got to tell you, Rick: Thank you for a quality answer. We don't get CEOs responding that truthfully to questions that often and even rarer still do we hear them insult the consumption habits of every single American citizen.
1. Au Revoir, Aubrey Farewell, Aubrey McClendon. We here at the 5 Dumbest Lab will certainly hate to see you go. That said, judging by the 7% pop in Chesapeake Energy's ( CHK) stock on Wednesday, clearly your shareholders are far less sentimental than we are. In fact, they seem pretty jubilant. The nation's second-largest national gas producer announced this week that McClendon will step down as CEO on April 1. McClendon is being scrutinized by regulators and Chesapeake's board for his freewheeling ways with the company's cash, as well as possible antitrust violations. McClendon told employees in an e-mail that his leaving was the result of "philosophical differences" with the board and that "the separation will be amicable and smooth." Philosophical differences? No way, Au-bray! The differences became purely physical after last June's shareholder insurrection that stripped you of your chairman title. These are entirely different people than the good, old boys that would rubber-stamp your massive checks and bail you out when you got into trouble. For example, this group would not have a philosophical debate about buying your antique map collection for $12.1 million like your old-crony board did in 2008 when your stock collapsed. They would just laugh. We do, however, agree with Aubrey that his separation from the company he founded will be smooth. How could it not be? McClendon is reportedly entitled to total compensation of about $47 million. He is also entitled to deferred compensation of about $800,000 and the unlimited use of corporate jets for four years. Yep, good, old Aubrey was oily till the end. He even greased the runway before he took off. And we'll miss him for that. Even if nobody else in the state of Oklahoma will.