The 5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street: May 21

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CA's Name Game

What's in a name? Don't ask the newly rechristened CA Technologies (Stock Quote: CA). It obviously has no clue.

The software provider, formerly known as CA and before that as Computer Associates, unveiled the name change on Sunday at CA World 2010, the company's annual customer conference. The company, which altered the name five years ago following an accounting scandal, said the name change was designed with insights "from nearly 700 customers, partners and market thought leaders."

Are you kidding us? All that brainpower and that's the best they can do? Did any of those so-called "thought leaders" consider that calling the company CA Technologies is redundant?

Think about it. The "C" in the title stands for computer, so of course it's a technology company!

That's like calling an automated teller machine an "ATM Machine." It may be commonplace, but it is repetitive, unnecessary and, upon further review, quite silly.

CA plans to increase its marketing budget 50% this year to about $200 million to get the word out. Still, compared with changing the name entirely, CEO Bill McCracken says this is "a simpler approach."

No, Bill, it's a simpleton's approach.

Dumb-o-meter score: 75 — Dumb by any other name is still dumb.

 

 

Europe's Google-Gate

The German government is investigating a massive privacy breach. What better place to start its search than with Google (Stock Quote: GOOG)?

Germany's consumer protection minister hammered the Internet search giant on Saturday, saying Google was illicitly harvesting personal data from unknowing Internet users. Minister Ilse Aigner said the "alarming incident" showed that Google is still lacking a privacy policy and needs to better cooperate with German regulators.

Google admitted it had inadvertently — and illegally — been scooping up pieces of people's online activities broadcast over public Wi-Fi networks for more than four years in order to expand a mapping feature called "Street View." The company's top engineering executive, Alan Eustace, apologized in a blog, saying that "we are acutely aware that we failed badly here."

You bet your bratwursts you screwed up, buddy. And the Germans are not the only angry ones. Apparently, the Irish Data Protection Authority is getting its, well, Irish up after Google said it had inadvertently collected snippets of conversations and other privy info in Ireland as well.

To make amends, Google says it is "reaching out to regulators in the relevant countries about how to quickly dispose" of the information it illegitimately collected.

We say they better dump the data as quickly and quietly as possible. Google retreated from China and now it is on the run in Europe.

 

Pretty soon we may need a Web site to locate countries that still welcome Google.

Dumb-o-meter score: 80 — Be very, very quiet. Google is listening.

 

 

MGM's Shoddy Suit

Stop whining and pay your debts, MGM Mirage (Stock Quote: MGM). You're not the first to go bust in Las Vegas, and you won't be the last.

The casino owner launched a multimillion dollar counter-suit last Friday against the contractor responsible for building its $8.5 billion CityCenter complex, saying its workmanship was shoddy and its billing left many subcontractors unpaid. Perini Building fired the first shot in the legal battle when it sought payment for its work in building CityCenter, the white elephant now posing as a posh hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.

In its counter-claim, MGM Mirage said that it has begun paying subcontractors despite Perini's contractual obligations to pay them. On the other side, Perini maintains they would gladly pay the subcontractors once MGM Mirage pays them in full.

We say it's pretty obvious that MGM is acting like a sore loser as its prized property bleeds more cash than a Vegas ATM after midnight.

The casino company claims that Perini performed unsatisfactory work across the CityCenter complex including the retail mall and the Aria convention center. They also maintain that problems with improperly spaced reinforcing steel at CityCenter's Harmon Hotel led to the tower being shortened and its opening delayed.

Why MGM would trumpet to the world structural defects in its own hotel, we have no idea. Gamblers certainly don't want to be worried about the roof caving in when they are laying down their next wager.

More importantly, we seem to remember the construction delays more as a function of MGM's legal and monetary tangles with its partners in Dubai than any major construction snafus.

Of course, we could be wrong about which party is truly at fault. As the saying goes, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," so we may never know what really went down while CityCenter was going up.

But it's a safe bet that CityCenter will continue to founder if MGM keeps dishing out its own bad press.

Dumb-o-meter score: 85 — The house doesn't always win...if it acts dumb.

 

 

Ambac's Swan Song

Three years ago this week, Ambac's (Stock Quote: ABK) stock reached its all-time high, trading above $96 a share. Back then, the bond world was awash in easy credit and triple-A ratings.

Fast forward to three days ago when the bond insurer sank to barely $1 a share after the company announced its first-quarter net loss widened 76%.

Happy anniversary, Ambac! We here at The Five Dumbest Lab would like to thank you for all the good times.

Unfortunately, we doubt there will be many more anniversaries.

For the quarter ended March 31, the bond insurer posted a net loss of $690.1 million, or $2.39 per share, compared with a net loss of $392.2 million, or $1.36 per share, last year. The company said $495 million of the losses were tied to accounting standards put into place after the Wisconsin insurance commissioner took control of its most troubled assets.

Sorry, Ambac dudes. Aren't government regulations and rules about too much leverage a huge buzz-kill?

Ambac warned back in November that it might file for bankruptcy protection if it couldn't improve its cash position. The possibility of Ambac going under increased with this week's earnings report.

But don't worry, guys. We'll always remember the good — and dumb — times we had together.

Dumb-o-meter score: 90 -- Ambac was overconfident and undercapitalized. Truly a toxic combination.

 

 

Germany's Blitz on Short-Sellers

It's certainly been a tough week for our friends in Germany. First they lose their World Cup captain Michael Ballack to an ankle injury just a few weeks before the tournament kicks off. Then they lose their minds and start screwing around with their trading regulations in the middle of a market meltdown.

The country's BaFin financial services regulator banned naked short-selling of German bank stocks, eurozone government bonds and credit default swaps on Wednesday. BaFin said the ban had been imposed "due to the extraordinary volatility in government bonds in the eurozone" and warned that massive short-selling could endanger the stability of the financial system.

So what was the result of this blitz on short-sellers?

German stocks fell 2.6%, while British and French indices fell 2.5% each. So much for stability, you dummkopfs.

The reverberations were even felt across the pond in America, where stocks sold off over renewed fears that European governments are repeating their own silly mistakes.

Recall that U.S. regulators first issued a temporary ban on naked short-selling in July 2008 on 19 financial stocks. Then in late September 2008, when the financial crisis was at its apex, the Securities and Exchange Commission widened that list to 799 financial companies and banned all short-selling for two weeks. As a result, the Dow fell nearly 3,000 points during that harrowing period as traders struggled to understand the new rules of a once familiar game.

One would think that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her refereeing crew would have learned that valuable lesson before giving short-sellers the red card.

Dumb-o-meter score: 95 -- Odds on Germany winning the World Cup fell from 11-1 to 16-1 once Ballack went down. Still a better bet than Greek bonds, if you ask us.

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