5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street: Feb. 13


Our Treasury Secretary Speaks

If Tim Geithner actually believed his "Financial Stability Plan" was going to calm anybody, we'd hate to hear his ideas on how he would wreak true terror.

Stocks in New York sold off sharply Tuesday after the Treasury secretary unveiled his much-hyped plan. (The fact that he called it a financial stability plan is an oxymoron, italics intended.) In short, Geithner's $1.5 trillion program aims to combat the financial crisis through a collaboration of public and private investments and a consumer and business lending initiative.

In prepared remarks released ahead of his press conference, Geithner offered his plans for deploying the second half of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, to banks that can pass "stress tests" to prove their worthiness. And in order to ensure more transparency and accountability, the plan requires firms to show how government assistance will expand lending and mitigate mortgage foreclosures.

Additionally, banks will be required to restrict dividend payments, stock repurchases and acquisitions. Executive compensation, of course, will be limited.

Geithner referred to the Financial Stability Plan as a "comprehensive strategy" that "will cost money, involve risk and take time."

Well, he was two-thirds right on that prediction. His risky plan cost investors a lot of money, but it didn't take much time.

When the dust settled from Geithner's big day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 381.99 points, or 4.6%, the S&P 500 fell 42.73 points, or 4.9%. The Nasdaq was lower by 66.83, or 4.2%.

Wall Street's misgivings were primarily motivated by Geithner's failure to address whether banks overburdened with toxic debt will be forced to fail, how illiquid assets will be excised from bank balance sheets, and perhaps most importantly, how the plan will stem plunging home prices and rising foreclosures.

To be fair, the market's dissatisfaction may not have been purely of Geithner's making. In his first evening press conference on Monday, President Obama raised Wall Street expectations by saying his Treasury secretary was going to announce "some very clear and specific plans" for loosening up credit in the system.

In the end, Geithner offered neither clarity, nor specificity, and stocks sold off. And we here at The Five Dumbest Lab know one thing is for sure: The market's not stupid.

Dumb-o-meter score: 95 -- Time for TARP III?

Wells Fargo's Guilt Trip

Wells Fargo would rather send the press on a guilt trip than send its employees on well-deserved vacations.

After scrapping an employee outing to Las Vegas last week in response to public furor over excessive spending by government-backed banks, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf (Stock Quote: WFC) attacked the press in full-page advertisements in Sunday's New York Times and Monday's Wall Street Journal.


"The problem is many media stories on this subject have been deliberately misleading," says Stumpf in the ads. "These one-sided stories lead you to believe every employee-recognition event is a junket, a boondoggle, a waste, or that it's for highly paid executives. Nonsense!"

The Associated Press reported last week that Wells Fargo, which received $25 billion from TARP, had booked 12 nights at the Wynn Las Vegas and the Encore Las Vegas (Stock Quote: WYNN) as a reward for top-producing employees. The company initially defended the trip, but canceled it soon after in the face of mounting pressure from Capitol Hill.

Stumpf goes on to say in the ad that the funds to pay for "recognition events" come from profits, not from the government. And since the company is not thanking its award winners with all-expenses-paid vacations this year, Stumpf says that "we'll have to do it this way."

Stumpf, let's begin by saying that we're a little disappointed in you. On top of being a lame CEO, you're whiny, too. And if that's not enough, your intellect in this matter can be most kindly described as being near imbecile level.

First of all, Wells Fargo reported a fourth-quarter loss of $2.55 billion, or 79 cents a share, so please don't even hint—much less say—that the price for these getaways was to be paid by company profits. Dude, you don't have any profit.

On top of that, Johnny, you spent money anyway. Instead of going ahead with your employee getaways, you wrote checks to news organizations upwards of $100,000 a page for national black-and-white full-page ads. If you felt so aggrieved, then send your employees to Vegas and deal with the bad ink. We don't see anybody stopping you, not even Congress.

One more thing: If you believe that your enemies are taking potshots at you, then don't be a fool and buy them ammunition.

Dumb-o-meter score: 85 -- Even smarter: Invite the press to Vegas. Everybody party on the taxpayer dime!

Drugmakers Erect Defenses

Something is up in Switzerland.

A panel from the Swiss Competition Commission, a market regulator, recommended sanctions Tuesday against a trio of pharmaceutical giants as well as drug distributors suspected of price fixing anti-impotence treatments.

The Swiss authorities said they began investigating the prices charged for erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra from Pfizer (Stock Quote: PFE), Cialis from Eli Lilly (Stock Quote: LLY) and Levitra from Bayer, in 2006. None of the drugs are reimbursed by Swiss insurers.

The panel said in a statement that by maintaining a recommended public selling price for the drugs, the pharma giants were engaging in "illegal vertical collusion" with their distributors.

The companies have 20 days to respond before the commission decides whether to follow the panel's plan to punish the companies or forbid them from suggesting prices for the pills.

Meanwhile, the companies are in full defense mode.

A Pfizer spokesman said, "The company has adhered to all applicable laws."

A Lilly spokeswoman said, "We are confident that the public price recommendations for Cialis do not constitute an illicit vertical agreement..."

A Bayer spokesman said the German company was checking on the situation and could not yet comment.

Our advice to Pfizer, Lilly and Bayer is to consult a spin doctor if this public relations headache persists. Otherwise, you will only increase your chances of dizziness, nausea and other side effects resulting from intense government regulation.

Dumb-o-meter score: 90 -- Viagra et. al should bring people, not drugmakers, together.

NetApp's Ranking Rancor

A few weeks ago, Network Appliance (Stock Quote: NTAP) was being lauded as a wonderful company to work for. Unfortunately, the privilege of working for NetApp is about to become an even more cherished experience, even for the folks who clock in there now.

Shares of NetApp plunged more than 8% in Tuesday's trading, a day after the storage company announced plans to cut nearly 500 employees, or nearly 6% of its workforce. NetApp's troubles continued Wednesday when the company missed Wall Street's third-quarter revenue targets and announced a $75 million loss, as its customers slowed their tech spending.

And things seemed so rosy just three weeks ago when the company unseated Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) to grab the top spot of Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies To Work For" list.

"Employee enthusiasm for the legendary egalitarian culture helped catapult NetApp to No. 1 after six years on our list," says Fortune, which listed the company at number 14 last year.

Egalitarian? Yeah, right. There's nothing like a mass firing to show employees who's the boss.

The irony was inescapable even to NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven, who apologized for the ugly timing of the layoffs Wednesday, calling them "especially disappointing" in light of the company's recent Fortune ranking.

Cheer up, Dan. You don't need Fortune's blessing to boost your self esteem.

You fit in much better on our Five Dumbest list anyway.

Dumb-o-meter score: 90 -- NetApp employees had quite the reversal of Fortune this week.

Fertilizer Fibber Found Out

The president of Intrepid Potash has paid the price for shoveling the wrong kind of manure.

Fertilizer firm Intrepid Potash (Stock Quote: IPI) on Wednesday announced the resignation of its President and chief operating officer, Patrick Avery. His departure stemmed from errors on his resume about his education, and apparent lack thereof. Shares of the company closed down $1.05 Wednesday, at $22.


Avery, who joined the firm in 2007, had previously claimed he had degrees from the University of Colorado and Loyola Marymount University. Although Avery did spend time at both institutions, he received neither the B.A. or M.S. diplomas he had boasted.

Intrepid Potash said it learned of this little detail Tuesday, according to a statement from the company. Avery's degree discrepancies were first brought to light by the Fraud Discovery Institute, a San Diego-based licensed private investigator founded by ex-con Barry Minkow. Avery is not the first executive nailed by Minkow for lying about a degree; in December 2008, he laid low Microsemi CEO James Peterson (Stock Quote: MSCC) for similar fabrications.

Intrepid Potash said it intends to keep Avery on in a consulting role as it searches for a new president and COO. In the meantime, the company's co-founder, chairman and CEO Robert Jornayvaz III will assume the role of president.

What we want to know is, when will these CEOs learn the difference between a B.S. degree, and pure unadulterated B.S.?

Dumb-o-meter score: 75 -- Another corporate big shot steps in it.

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