5. General Mills' Seinfeld Schtick
Shove over Olympic medal winners and Super Bowl champs. There's a more deserving Wheaties box candidate than all you sports superstars.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld of course.
Seriously, the toothy sit-com star loves cereal and "nothing." What more could you ask for based on General Mills' (GIS) blog post late last week?
"Did we change Cheerios?" asked Tom Forsythe, the food-maker's VP of Global Communications, on the company's Web site. "No. Not really."
Tommy-Boy is not lying folks. There really is nothing happening to your morning munch, or for that matter to General Mills stock which barely budged on the news.
Here's the real deal. In a bid to ease the minds of food additive activists, General Mills says it will not be using genetically modified ingredients in its iconic oat-brand cereal. Not that this was ever an issue with Cheerios anyway. The modified seeds in question are generally used to grow corn and not oats, so like Seinfeld's hit sit-com, General Mills really is making a big show about nothing.
For the record, Cheerios Honey Nut variety will keep its GMOs in the mix, which means nothing is happening there either. A General Mills spokesman said the investment required to eliminate GMOs outside its original Cheerios brand would be prohibitive.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, in General Mills opinion.
"It's not about safety. Biotech seeds, also known as genetically modified seeds, have been approved by global food safety agencies and widely used by farmers in global food crops for almost 20 years," the General Mills blog said.
Sounds like a whole lot of yada, yada, yada to us.
4. Select Gets Shellacked
Sorry Shelly, but your shareholders will rest much easier putting their savings under one of your mattresses than in your stock.
Shares of Select Comfort (SCSS) fell out of bed Monday, tumbling over 19% after CEO Shelly Ibach told the Street that the mattress-maker's fourth-quarter earnings will come in below the low end of its prior forecast due to slow Christmas sales. Select Comfort previously told analysts it would earn between 18 cents and 26 cents per share. Wall Street's consensus estimate fell right in the middle of that very, very wide range at 22 cents.
"The sales slowdown following the Thanksgiving holiday reflected a tepid retail holiday shopping season. We expect this challenging environment to continue in 2014 and are planning accordingly," said Ibach. Select Comfort will officially report quarterly results on Feb. 5.
"Planning"? Don't sell us short Shelly. We learned long ago to stop listening to your plans.
Back in October, for example, you blamed your company's Q3 earnings shortfall and 25% drop in stock price on sluggish demand due to a challenging "macro-economic environment." Oh sure, like the government shutdown was keeping people from buying mattresses. Give us a break. Everybody knew the real reason for your failure was Select's massively expensive and messy marketing campaign.
In fact, if memory serves, that October blowup was the reason you widened your Q4 earnings guidance range in the first place. Now it is barely three months later and you can't even hit the low end!
October's cliff-dive was actually one of many in 2013. Select Comfort's shares got massacred last March following its announcement that it was experiencing "below-plan" sales. (Once again, so much for planning Shel!) And Select's stock got shellacked by 20% last January after the company issued downbeat 2013 guidance due to higher marketing expenses and lagging sales.
Here's our 2014 plan for Ibach's shareholders: If you are seeking comfort then select another stock.
3. Goodyear Nightmare
In America they would call it a kidnapping. In France, however, they say c'est la vie.
A pair of Goodyear (GT) plant managers were taken captive by workers this week inside a factory in Amiens France that the company is trying to shut down. Members of the left wing CGT union seized production and human resources directors Michel Dheilly and Bernard Glesser Monday to demand higher severance pay for more than a thousand employees being let go.
The unions at Goodyear want severance packages ranging from $109,000 to $235,000 depending on seniority. Management's proposals have not been released.
"We're ready to go all the way," said CGT union delegate Franck Jurek. "It can last for a few more hours, it can last for a few days or a few weeks. As long as our demands are not met, these two people stay with us."
All the way? Pas tout a fait, Franck. The two hostages were let go late Tuesday after spending a little more than 24 hours as hostages.
Then again, did you really think these union workers would hold out for weeks or months? Seriously, it was that kind of indolence and insolence which caused Goodyear to shutter the uncompetitive plant in the first place!
Not that they will be punished for the whole abduction charade. We guarantee that the police and French government will take a laissez-faire attitude to the perpetrators. Boss-napping may be viewed harshly in America, but in France it's less frowned upon.
If this all sounds familiar -- you know, like a case of deja vu -- this is indeed the same troublesome tire plant that Titan International (TWI) CEO Maurice Taylor considered rescuing last year before backing out because he deemed France's unionized workers overpaid and underworked.
Well, what say you now Maurice?
Even though they couldn't "go all the way," you must admit these folks showed a lot of initiative. If they were totally shiftless they wouldn't have abducted anybody at all!
2. Penney's Punch
Shares of J.C. Penney (JCP) got clocked Wednesday after the beleaguered retailer puzzled Wall Street analysts by claiming it was "pleased with its performance" during the holiday period, while offering no quantifiable evidence to substantiate its boast. Penney's stock had already gotten smacked this year for an 11% loss prior to Wednesday's 10% shellacking.
To which we say: Sorry for your knuckle-sandwich, but thank you J.C. Penney! As a result of your cold-cocking, we now know the phrase "pleased as punch" is derived from announcing one's pleasure and then taking a punch, as opposed to a reference to a pair of British hand puppets named Punch and Judy.
You see? Easy as pie! Or is it easy as Pi?
We'll look that up later. In the meantime, we'll continue to wonder why on earth J.C. Penney flummoxed analysts -- and frightened investors -- by reaffirming its fourth-quarter outlook from November instead of releasing its December sales figures. Back in November, if you remember, Penney's trumpeted that its same-store sales climbed a Street-beating 10% and it was optimistic heading into the holiday season.
So much for no news is good news.
With its market-cap now under $2.3 billion, Penney's clearly needs a strong holiday season if it intends to survive until next year. By denying the Street the information it craves, Penney's has its investors guessing that it's December same store sales fell into negative territory. As a result, Penney's shareholders are not sticking around for the company to offer additional information when it releases its fourth-quarter earnings report in early February.
Much unlike Penney's management, they clearly gained no pleasure at all from this sucker-punch.
1. Bernie's Boneheaded Bankers
JPMorgan Chase (JPM) was "dumb" in both senses of the word when it came to Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Like the rest of the financial world, JPMorgan Chase was "dumb," as in stupid, idiotic or silly, due to its inability to recognize the extent of the fraud Madoff was perpetuating in plain sight. In addition, the behemoth of a bank was "dumb," as in speechless, because it failed to pipe up when it did recognize that Bernie was up to some very bad things indeed.
Now Bernie's favorite bank is paying $2.6 billion in consequences for its dually dumb actions. And while many on Wall Street are decrying this latest multi-billion dollar settlement as yet another attempt by Uncle Sam to pick JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon's pocket for its own Madoff mismanagement, a quick read of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's statement reveals this really is justice at work.
As for the details, JPMorgan consented to a two-count criminal information, through which the Justice Department charged the bank with "failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program... and failure to file a suspicious activity report." JPMorgan agreed to pay $1.7 billion to the federal government as part of the agreement.
It also agreed to pay $350 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, its primary regulator, and also settled private lawsuits for $524 million, including a suit by Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee seeking to resolve the claims of the victims of Madoff's Ponzi scheme. JPMorgan's shares fell over 1% to $58 on Tuesday in reaction to this latest settlement.
"We recognize we could have done a better job pulling together various pieces of information and concerns about Madoff from different parts of the bank over time. We filed a Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) in the U.K. in late October 2008, but not in the U.S.," said the bank in a statement. "We do not believe that any JPMorgan Chase employee knowingly assisted Madoff's Ponzi scheme."
Oh, come on, guys. You shouldn't have mentioned that October 2008 report. That's just embarrassing considering JPMorgan served as "the primary bank through which Madoff ran his Ponzi scheme" since 1986, to borrow Preet's words.
Bharara added that "between 1986 and 2008, an astounding $150 billion went in and out of that account, and notably, none of it was used for the purpose and sale of securities, even though that was Madoff's stated business."
He also offered numerous other examples of warning signs to JPMorgan Chase that Madoff's business was a fraud, and he detailed the bank's actions to mitigate its risk from Madoff's scheme before it collapsed and became known to the public.
Look. We don't deny that in many cases JPMorgan is being forced to hand over billions for the mortgage sins of others, most notably those committed by Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual prior to Dimon's purchase of the pair at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. And we'll grant you that the government's "London Whale" witch hunt also reeks of fishiness.
JPMorgan's Madoff behavior stands apart from all that. And the bank is rightfully paying up for its dumbness, however you define it.
-- Written by Gregg Greenberg in New York