Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street: Dec. 19

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Christopher Cox Clouseau

Have no fear, Madoff victims. Christopher Cox is on the case.

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Cox made his first major statement Wednesday concerning the alleged $50 billion Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme since the case was brought to light Dec. 11.

Cox, who will soon be replaced as SEC chief by Barack Obama nominee Mary Schapiro, assured the public that "every necessary resource" at the SEC has been dedicated to pursuing the investigation, protecting customer assets and holding those who may have been involved accountable.

Furthermore, while he can't share too much about the ongoing investigation, Cox revealed that "progress to date indicates that Mr. Madoff kept several sets of books and false documents, and provided false information involving his advisory activities to investors and to regulators."

Wow Chris! With detective work like that, you'll crack this case in no time.

Are you suggesting Madoff not only lied to the millionaires, charities, hedge funds and mom and pops, but to the SEC as well? Who would've guessed?

Sorry Chris, but you don't get off that easy.

Credible and specific allegations regarding Madoff's shenanigans were repeatedly brought to the attention of SEC staff going all the way back to 1999, but the commission failed to act on them. And even in your lame mea culpa, you admit that the "staff relied upon information voluntarily produced by Mr. Madoff and his firm" instead of getting off their duffs and doing some actual legwork.

Here's our idea to rectify the situation, and hopefully you won't ignore it like you did the many opportunities you had to nab Madoff. Instead of asking the SEC's inspector general to review the internal policies that led to this catastrophe, we suggest you hand the case to Inspector Clouseau.

Surely the bumbling French detective could do a better job than you or your commission.

Dumb-o-meter score: 95 -- Let's hope we don't get a sequel to this Pink Panther show.







Not Such a Slick Oil Forecast

 

Merrill Lynch's oil analyst thinks he's slick. We disagree.

Francisco Blanch, the Merrill Lynch (MER) analyst famous for calling oil's ascent to $150, helped push oil lower this week after he reiterated his forecast that oil would hit $25 a barrel next year in a Bloomberg interview. He originally made the call on Nov. 26.

But don't celebrate too soon, says Blanch -- clearly from the other side of his mouth -- prices will return to their $150 peak in the next three years once the global recession ends.

"If we reignite economic growth to a very fast level, we will have a shortage of energy again," said Blanch, who gained his market moving status in November 2007 by forecasting $150 oil when crude was about $96.

So let's get this straight. Blanch's price range for oil for the next three years is between $25 and $150 a barrel, depending on global economic growth.

Give us a break. You could drive a fleet of tankers through that range.

Of course, Blanch could change his mind, just like he did at least four times this year. Back on Aug. 7, for example, with crude about $120, Blanch said oil demand would be supported by "very healthy" growth in emerging markets, according to Bloomberg. Two months later, Blanch sent prices 4.6% lower when he reduced his average 2009 forecast to $90 citing worries over a sputtering global economy.

We won't wait for his next prediction. We'll just keep wondering how we could ever live without these guys.

Dumb-o-meter score: 90 -- We think the market will be either go up or down in 2009. Ain't we smart?







National Lampoon's Not-So-Funny Business

The CEO of National Lampoon may soon be taking a long, state-paid Vacation.

Federal prosecutors on Monday charged National Lampoon Chief Daniel Laikin and two others with conspiracy and securities fraud for allegedly manipulating the stock price of the company.

Shares of National Lampoon (NLN), the company that owns the rights to the Vacation and Animal House movies, last traded at 73 cents before being halted for 10 days. The company sports a miniscule market cap of $6.9 million.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Philadelphia and the SEC say Laikin paid people to buy and sell the company's stock in order to create the illusion of market interest, a practice known as "painting the tape." The stock purchases were timed to coincide with company news releases, according to prosecutors, to make the purchases seem more legitimate.

Prosecutors said Laikin, who owned a majority of shares, allegedly paid thousands of dollars to stock promoters who in turn attempted to push the shares from $2 to $5 between March and June of this year. Shares bounced between $1.50 and $2 during the period in question. The 52-week high for the stock of $2.40 was reached in December 2007.

National Lampoon spokeswoman Marcy Goot declined to comment. U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid, however, told reporters at a news conference, "To borrow a line from Animal House, the rules lost."

 

Those poor Lampooners. Only a week ago the company proudly announced the acquisition of JerkassClothing.com, a company specializing in youth and college oriented T-shirts. Now it sounds like perfect prison-wear. If Laikin and friends are found guilty, they certainly won't be receiving double secret probation.

Dumb-o-meter score: 85 -- The Animal House of cards has come crashing down.







PacSun's Pinhead Pen Pal

 

The CEO of athletic apparel retailer Adrenalina (AENA) needs to put down his pen and pick up a brain.

The moronic letters from Adrenalina CEO Ilia Lekach to Pacific Sunwear (PSUN) CEO Sally Kasaks offering to buy PacSun have wasted everyone's time.

In the most recent letter, written in late November but released this Monday, Lekach withdrew his offer to purchase the teen retailer for $5 a share, or what was a 72% premium at the time. Lekach cited PacSun's "precipitous stock decline", as well as "the Board's refusal to meet with us," for pulling his pricey bid. Does he think anyone cares?

Lekach originally proposed the $296 million merger in an October missive to Kasaks, but was immediately rejected by PacSun's board on the grounds that it was not in the best interest of shareholders. He then raised the bid, but PacSun still said no.

At this point, you may be wondering if Kasaks and the PacSun board may have soaked up too much of that strong California sun in rejecting a seemingly juicy offer while their own shares languish under $2 and same store sales plummet.

But dig a little bit deeper and it's clear that Kasaks and Co. are quite right to ignore the delusional Lekach.

PacSun has 813 stores and 124 outlets. Adrenalina has just three. PacSun had sales of $324 million in the third quarter alone, while Adrenalina only managed to bring in $4.5 million over the last 12 months. PacSun has a market cap of $113 million and Adrenalina is worth $14 million. So there is no way Lekach's guppy can swallow such a big fish.

Kasaks finally responded to Lekach on Monday, by letter of course, telling him that his antics only serve to "distract" PacSun's employees. He should have saved on the stamp and sent Lekach a three word e-mail: Stop being stupid.

Dumb-o-meter score: 75 -- Adrenalina's next product should be a sporty dunce cap for its CEO.







An Apple Controversy A Day

Will Apple CEO Steve Jobs show up at Macworld, or won't he?

Honestly, we wish the guy well, but we don't care.

The computer giant shocked Apple (AAPL) fans to their cores Tuesday when it announced that Jobs won't be delivering the highly anticipated keynote speech at the annual Macworld computer trade show in January, once again raising issues about the health of the iconic leader.

Apple said Philip Schiller, a marketing executive, will stand in for Jobs. Apple shares fell 5.8% to $89.90 in after-hours trading on the news, after gaining 68 cents to end the regular session at $95.43.

The company also said 2009 will be its last year exhibiting at the Macworld Expo, a multi-day get-together devoted to Macs, iPods, iPhones and other Apple accessories. Apple says it's all part of an ongoing effort to reduce its participation in showcase events, which will become a "very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers."

Setting that piece of blarney aside -- come on, Apple loves trade shows more than hippies love Woodstock -- the chief concern driving the stock down is obviously the question over Jobs' well-being. The subject has been lingering since 2004 when Jobs was treated for pancreatic cancer. In June, when Jobs took the stage to introduce the cheaper, faster iPhone, his dramatically thinner appearance led to speculation about his future at the company.

Jobs says his health is a private matter, which would be fine with us if the issue didn't keep spilling over to the public markets. And for that we blame Apple's vaunted PR machine.

Apple spinmeisters should stop raising the anxieties of the company's devoted followers -- and loyal investors -- through subtle hints and signs. Either come clean or quit the charade.

Dumb-o-meter score: 75 -- Hey Apple, download this: Enough is enough.

 

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