If you think the world of business is generally less than scintillating, you weren't plugged into SLM Corp.'s (NYSE: SLM ) analyst conference call Wednesday. During the call, Al Lord, who last week had returned to the CEO post at the company -- which most of you know as Sallie Mae, the leading provider of student loans -- did about everything but respond to the dart throwers' questions.
Unfortunately for shareholders, he said enough about higher funding costs and the possibility of a dividend cut to result in his company's shares being whacked by 21%. But then, Sallie Mae also is reeling from having spent several months in the throes of a failed $25 billion buyout, which ultimately was reneged upon by investors led by private-equity firm J.C. Flowers & Co. SLM now has moved on to what promises to be a lengthy period of litigation with those investors.
Lord's performance followed a reduction last week in 2008 guidance for his company. But it was his unwillingness to be forthcoming about its prospects that led one frustrated analyst to beseech Lord during the call, "We're trying to put together projections here, Al. We're trying to figure out what your stock is going to be worth, and you have got to give us some guidance. You've got to give us some numbers. I don't even see a margin number here for the stuff that you've done."
To that, Lord responded, "You should give Steve (McGarry, the company's investor relations operative) a call."
That exchange preceded Lord's promise that he'll meet with analysts in New York next month, along with his advice to "get there early because I can assure you, you will be going through a metal detector."
Shortly thereafter, when there apparently were no other questions, Lord said to McGarry, "There's no questions, let's get the (expletive) out of here."
Based largely on that stellar performance, the company's shares, which had closed at $28.87 on Tuesday, went out at $22.89 on Wednesday. I'm forced to note that it's impossible to imagine similar treatment for the financial community from the likes of JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM ) , or -- despite its recent troubles -- Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER ) , or Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , or Citigroup (NYSE: C ) .
Clearly SLM is a company with problems -- including the prospect of ratings cuts. On that basis, and until its CEO finds his manners, I hope Fools will enjoy the show, but apply their shekels in other places.
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