5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street: Jan. 29

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Gates Goads Google

Is it just us, or will Bill Gates say just about anything to be chummy with the Chinese government?

When asked about Google's (Stock Quote: GOOG) battle with Beijing over censorship on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday, Microsoft's (Stock Quote: MSFT) chairman described Chinese restrictions as "very limited." Gates added that the Internet is subject to different kinds of censorship around the world, but has proved successful at promoting openness.

"The Chinese efforts to censor the Internet have been very limited. It's easy to go around it, and so I think keeping the Internet thriving there is very important," said Gates.

Oh sure, Bill! We totally agree that those Chinese Internet police are just a bunch of softies, veritable mall cops. Just ask the Chinese dissidents who were jailed for "inciting subversion" when Yahoo! named names a few years ago, and we are sure they will say the same thing -- under threat of severe torture, of course.

Look, we understand that Gates wants to open some doors and, more importantly, sell some Windows 7 in the world's biggest market. However, it's pretty discouraging when the world's richest man -- and so-called humanitarian -- sells out in order to do so.

Dumb-o-meter score: 75 -- Is Beijing Bill another Tokyo Rose? We sure hope not.

 

 

Oracle's Billboard Bombshells

He may be the president of Oracle (Stock Quote: ORCL), but Charles Phillips sure didn't see this one coming.

Phillips admitted to an extramarital affair late last week with a woman he was pictured embracing on billboards that mysteriously popped up in New York and Atlanta. The billboards, which showed a beaming Phillips with his arms wrapped snugly around a certain YaVaughnie Wilkins, featured the message "You are my soulmate forever!" and a link to an online gallery of additional romantic photos of the pair.

"I had an 8 1/2-year serious relationship with YaVaughnie Wilkins. My divorce proceedings began in 2008. The relationship with Ms. Wilkins has since ended and we both wish each other well," acknowledged Phillips who reportedly lives with his wife in New York and regularly works in the Bay Area.

So much for "soulmates forever." Huh?

He clearly wanted to get out and she wanted to get even. And boy, did she ever! Estimates for the billboard purchases have been pegged around a quarter million dollars and the wacky tale of the spurned lover's revenge lit up not just Times Square at night but gossip pages worldwide.

Last year, Oracle paid Phillips made more than $19.3 million, so he clearly has the means to top Wilkins' billboards and get back on his wife's good side. And in our opinion there is only one way for him to do it: A Super Bowl ad.

Dumb-o-meter score: 80 -- We can't wait to see what Wilkins has planned for Valentine's Day.

 

 

GM's 'New' General

Take our advice when we tell you not to play hide and seek with the folks at GM. The automaker spent seven weeks looking for a new CEO, only to find their man already seated comfortably in the executive suite.

General Motors chairman and interim chief executive, Ed Whitacre Jr., announced Monday that he is dropping the interim from his CEO title. The former CEO of AT&T has been serving as interim CEO since the board ousted former CEO Fritz Henderson on Dec. 1.

"The board looked at the potential candidates and decided this place needs stability. We don't need any more uncertainty," Whitacre told reporters at GM's Detroit headquarters.

Excuse us for asking, but if Whitacre was just going to stay on as CEO, why did a cash-strapped GM pay a search firm to find a successor? And what on earth did they do for nearly two months? Eat potato chips and play 'Where's Waldo?'?

Whitacre said it was not his intention to become CEO when he was named chairman, but feels he has a good grasp of the company and what needs to be done to turn it around.

"I think this company is good for America. I think America needs this," said Whitacre.

Frankly Ed, to us it sounds more like you need this.

Dumb-o-meter score: 85 -- Whitacre also promised to repay the $8.1 billion in loans it received from the U.S. and Canadian governments by June. That's a lot of money. We sure hope he remembers where to find it.

 

 

Jackson Hewitt's Headache

Jackson Hewitt (Stock Quote: JTX) is finding itself in quite a taxing situation these days.

Shares of the tax preparer sank 17% on Wednesday to less than $3 a share after it said it was unable to secure the funding it needs for refund anticipation loans during the busy income tax season. The company, which is the industry's No. 2 player behind H&R Block, said it has commitments for only half the funds it had last year to offer the loans, which it offers to customers who expect to pocket refunds from the Internal Revenue Service.

Hey, did you ever notice how when you combine "the" and "IRS" it spells "theIRS"? Pretty ironic, huh?

Anyway, the failure to secure the funds will impair the company's "business, financial condition and results of operations," said Jackson Hewitt in an Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Now that's a double whammy. First, Jackson Hewitt customers can't get a loan while they wait for their money back from the IRS. Next, Jackson Hewitt shareholders get hammered by a sliding stock.

Clearly Jackson Hewitt needs to better account for its behavior, or pretty soon it will be game over.

Dumb-o-meter score: 90 -- Talk about taking the "fun" out of "refund" (Okay, we'll stop).

 

 

Obama's Bank Boost

For a guy who doesn't want Wall Street's elite to make any more money, President Obama sure did a good job lining their pockets last week.

President Obama introduced his plan to curb proprietary trading and "obscene" bonuses last week at nearly the exact time when banks such as Goldman Sachs (Stock Quote: GS) and Morgan Stanley (Stock Quote: MS) were pricing their employee stock awards. Therefore, as Bloomberg rightly pointed out first, when the president struck out at the banks last week, the subsequent plunge in financial stocks only helped their employees get better strike prices. The capper is that now, more than ever, Wall Street's biggest banks are awarding more of their bonuses in stock to tie pay to performance.

Ah, the law of unintended consequences can be so cruel, can't it Mr. President?

Goldman Sachs, for example, priced its bonus shares at $154.12, the closing level on Jan. 22, according to a Bloomberg source, after Obama's attack prompted a 8.1% slide in the stock. As a result of the biggest two-day drop in Goldman shares since March, employees will receive more shares than they would have earlier in the week, and have greater upside should the stock move higher.

Morgan Stanley's squad also benefited from Obama's bashing. Morgan Stanley priced its stock awards on Jan. 21, the day Obama announced his plan. Morgan Stanley shares tumbled 4.2% that day.

The real losers were over at JPMorgan Chase (Stock Quote: JPM), according to Bloomberg. The bank priced stock for most employees on Jan. 20, just prior to Obama's declaration of war. Its shares dropped 9.8% during the next two days.

Sorry guys. Just wait till next year and maybe the president will attack you again.

Dumb-o-meter score: 95 -- It's truly extraordinary. Goldman Sachs can't even cut compensation when it wants to!

 

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