5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street: Feb. 6


Super Bowl XXX

NBC's Tucson affiliate got the wrong kind of ratings this Super Bowl Sunday. They wanted sky-high, they got triple X.

KVOA-TV says its broadcast of the Super Bowl was interrupted for some customers by up to 30 seconds of pornographic material. The station posted a statement on its Web site late Sunday saying it plans to investigate the incident. NBC Universal is a division of General Electric (Stock Quote: GE).

The station says only viewers receiving the channel through Comcast Cable (Stock Quote: CMSCA) were able to see the adult-themed material and that the game was sent out from the station without interruptions. A Comcast spokeswoman confirmed that the company's standard feed was interrupted during the Super Bowl. The company later added that it was "appalled" by the interruption and is offering affected customers $10 credits on its bills.

Tucson media outlets began receiving calls from viewers after Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald's fourth-quarter touchdown catch. Instead of a replay, a number of area football fans were treated to full frontal male nudity from Club Jenna, an adult cable station.

The source of the Super-sized screw-up will undoubtedly be revealed at some point, so we won't assign blame as we wait—to use football parlance—for the officials to further review the tape.

In the meantime, we won't begrudge animal rights activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals the last laugh. NBC pulled the plug on a racy PETA pro-vegetable commercial planned for the Super Bowl saying it depicted "a level of sexuality exceeding our standards."

The ad, which sports the tagline, "Studies Show Vegetarians Have Better Sex," shows scantily-clad models getting intimate with veggies.

Had they used football equipment instead, they might have gotten the green light.

Dumb-o-meter score: 95 -- Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction was nothing compared to this.

Ciena's CEO Splurge


Somebody send telecom equipment maker Ciena (Stock Quote: CIEN) the message that less is more these days when it comes to paying failed CEOs.

According to a proxy statement filed on Monday, the Linthicum, Md.-based company awarded president and CEO Gary B. Smith a compensation package valued at $5.3 million in fiscal 2008, up 14% from the prior year. Smith's salary of $626,923 for the fiscal year that ended in October was up 23% from the year before.

On top of his salary, Smith, who started as CEO in May 2001, received $568,750 in non-equity incentive plan compensation, perquisites including tax preparation services totaling $19,643, and stock options valued at $4 million on the day they were granted, up 18% from a year earlier.

Get ready, faithful 5 Dumbest readers, because here comes the kicker: Ciena's shares fell 80% during their fiscal 2008. In the company's fourth quarter, Ciena lost $25.4 million compared with a profit of $30.4 million the prior year. Ciena shares now trade just north of $6 a share and the company is not expected to earn a profit this year.

Yes, dear friends, even we were dumbstruck by the level of stupidity behind this pay raise. And we consider ourselves pros.

Just to add a little more perspective to Ciena's galling behavior, Smith's salary was $569,000 when he assumed the CEO position back in the spring of 2001. At that time—albeit the twilight of the tech bubble—the company's stock was trading at more than $400 a share and its market cap neared $30 billion. Ciena's sales for fiscal 2001 topped $1.6 billion.

Ciena's stock has since fallen 99%, and the company now sports a market value of $560 million. Revenue for fiscal 2008 was $902 million.

Ciena, in other words, is a smidgen of what it once was with every financial metric falling off a cliff since Gary Smith's promotion to CEO.

Everything, that is, except Smith's salary.

Dumb-o-meter score: 90 -- How many bubbles must burst before Ciena gets a clue?

Senators In Glass Rotundas


Senators in glass rotundas should think twice before throwing slurs.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D.-Mo.) unleashed a tirade against Wall Street executives on the Senate floor last week, saying "we have a bunch of idiots on Wall Street that are kicking sand in the face of the American taxpayer." McCaskill delivered her outburst while introducing a bill called the Cap Executive Officer Pay Act that would limit the salary, bonuses and stock options of executives at financial companies getting federal bailout aid to no more than what the U.S. president earns: $400,000 a year, excluding benefits.

President Obama and Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday announced a separate plan to limit pay to $500,000 a year for executives of government-assisted financial institutions. Banks that receive capital infusions, but are considered healthy, could waive the salary cap under the President's plan.

McCaskill took executives at Merrill Lynch directly to task, lambasting their decision to distribute billions in bonuses to employees just ahead of the brokerage's sale to Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC) on January 1. She also excoriated Citigroup (Stock Quote: C), for even thinking about taking delivery of a $42 million corporate jet.

Citigroup ended up backing out of the purchase yet is still on the hook for $45 billion from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program. Bank of America has taken $25 billion in TARP funds.

"Is that so unreasonable?" the Missouri Democrat asked in reference to her plan to cap executive pay. "It's eight times the median household income in the United States of America. ... I don't think that sounds like a bad deal."

No, $400,000 a year doesn't sound like a bad deal to most people, Senator. Then again, neither does the $174,000 a year plus benefits members of Congress will pocket in 2009, up 2.7% from last year and 5.3% since 2007.

That's quite a nice pay raise from the checkbook of We the People, especially when only 20% of Americans said in January they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, down from already-low averages of 27% in 2007 and 25% in 2006, according to Gallup.

And while we here at the 5 Dumbest Lab generally agree with your negative characterizations of Wall Street's elite - heck, we rip these morons every week - we have also witnessed copious amounts of idiocy from Capitol Hill.

Where were you when the banking system was blowing up? What kind of oversight did you provide to keep Bernie Madoff from stealing billions? And, as to our spiraling national debt, need we remind you who controls the power of the purse?

You got your raise, Senator. Now earn it.

Dumb-o-meter score: 85 -- Time to stop the grandstanding and do some real work.

Liar's Joker


It's time to close the book on hedge fund manager John Meriwether.

Meriwether, immortalized for his bond trading prowess by author Michael Lewis in his book Liar's Poker, along with his partners at money management firm JWM Partners LLC are considering starting a new hedge fund, according to a report in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.

Meriwether formed JWM Partners in 1999 after his previous fund, the highly leveraged Long-Term Capital Management, crashed spectacularly, requiring a $3.6 billion emergency bailout from a consortium of investment banks which included Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and UBS. It also spawned Roger Lowenstein's best-selling book When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital.

Meriwether's genius failed again in 2008 when the Greenwich, Conn.-based fund manager saw the value of his flagship fund plummet. JWM said in its December letter to investors that the value of its Relative Value Opportunity Portfolio, dropped 41.6% over 2008 to reach a net asset value of $495.7 million, according to the WSJ. The S&P 500 index fell 39% over the same period.

JWM has not decided on the investment strategy of the new fund and there still remains the potential that the plan could be shelved, says the WSJ.

We advise scrapping the idea immediately. The only positives that can be derived from Meriwether's long career on Wall Street are his primary roles in the growing canon of books on how not to manage other people's money.

We still don't know why rich people keep throwing millions at Meriwether considering his track record.

But don't ask us, just check the best-seller list.

Dumb-o-meter score: 80 - To quote Liar's Poker: "It's Equities in Dallas" for Meriwether.




Motorola's Campaign Calamity

Things have gotten so bad at Motorola that even politicians won't take their money.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's campaign said Tuesday that it will refund a $10,000 contribution from Motorola (Stock Quote: MOT), as Nixon weighs an approximately $82 million radio systems contract with the struggling telecommunications company. Motorola was awarded the contract shortly before former Gov. Matt Blunt left office Jan. 12. After assuming office, Nixon, a Democrat, halted the deal pending further review by his administration. Nixon received the $10,000 from Motorola on Jan. 26, according to state campaign finance reports.

Nixon campaign manager Ken Morley said in an e-mail to the Associated Press that the money was supposed to offset costs for Nixon's inaugural celebration.

"A contribution to the inauguration was committed long before the administration announced its review of the contract," said Morley. "But since that review is ongoing, the governor believes it is appropriate to return the contribution."

Motorola could surely use the money, although it is quite clear they have no idea what to do with it.

The No. 5 phone maker, which lags well behind No.1 Nokia (Stock Quote: NOK), posted a fourth-quarter net loss of $3.6 billion on Tuesday. Sales fell 26% to $7.1 billion.

For the record, Motorola was not alone in sponsoring the governor's inaugural festivities. Over 40 companies, including AT&T (Stock Quote: T), donated money for the Show Me State bash.

Only Motorola's contribution was returned, however, proving once again they have nothing left to show.

Dumb-o-meter score: 75 -- Motorola can't even buy influence correctly.


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