Stupidity is contagious. It gets us all from time to time. Even respectable companies can catch it. As I do every week, let's take a look at five dumb financial events from this week that may make your head spin.
E*TRADE's moves follow similar shots fired by Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW ) in recent weeks.
This is great news for account holders, but it comes at the worst possible time for investors in the actual discount brokers. Trading has dried up and it's hard to make money on interest-bearing parking spaces when rates are at historic lows. E*TRADE seemed to be making all of the right moves, even if it's still posting losses. Let's see if this pricing war gets in the way of the discounter's expected return to profitability between now and next year.
"Our company and business performed solidly ahead of our expectations in Q4 2009, despite ongoing gridlock in the commercial real estate industry," he notes in the earnings release.
This is the kind of quote that would lead one to believe that LoopNet was able to forge ahead despite a difficult industry's headwinds, but let's go to the tape. Earnings per share were nearly cut in half, as revenue took a 13% hit. This doesn't appear to be a company that escaped the ongoing gridlock. All it did was provide lowball guidance that it was able to exceed.
There are positives here. Property listings and profile views are higher than they were a year ago. However, premium subscriptions are LoopNet's bread and butter, and they're just not happening right now.
3. Dial M for Murdoch
Things continue to get uglier at News Corp.'s (Nasdaq: NWS ) MySpace. Either the social-networking site unceremoniously canned its CEO this week, or Owen van Natta decided to walk on his own. Either way, it doesn't bode well for the site.
Web 2.0 sites can be fickle, so MySpace's fall from grace isn't a "dumb" move per se. The lowlight worth highlighting here actually requires a trip through time, to when News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch was at his cockiest, four years ago.
It was in late 2006 that Murdoch argued that the site could be sold for $6 billion. This was around the time that an up-and-coming Facebook was presumably swatting away a $1 billion buyout offer from Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) .
We may never know how Murdoch arrived at that figure. Was there an offer on the table? If so, he should have taken it and laughed all the way to the bank (since Murdoch acquired MySpace as part of a $580 million deal earlier). It's hard to lay a price on a stagnant MySpace these days, but it would clearly be well short of $6 billion.
4. Stinging the singing
Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) has a superstar to satisfy. Howard Stern was gushing during his radio show earlier this week over the prospects of replacing Simon Cowell on American Idol, just days after New York Post's gossipy Page Six column claimed that he's at the top of the show producer's list.
Is this how the final year of Stern's show is going to be? Last month, Stern was bragging about offers coming in from terrestrial radio. February appears to be television teases. I guess Stern really is the king of all media.
Sirius XM needs to get Stern re-signed, and this time with the stipulation that his channels can be streamed through smartphone applications. The longer the satellite radio provider waits, the louder Stern will negotiate in public.
The flip side is that this may be part of a brilliant ploy. Stern and Sirius XM CEO Mel Karmazin may already be on the same page in terms of a new contract and this is just their way to drum up publicity for Stern's inevitable contract extension. If that's the case -- then a hearty "well played, Mr. Karmazin" is in order. If not, get it done.
Following in Yahoo!'s footsteps, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is trying to give its Gmail service a social-network bent. Google Buzz is the world's leading search engine's attempt to make its free email platform stickier.
The Facebook-esque move allows Gmail users to share status updates, photos, videos, and more.
Why is this a dumb idea? Well, for starters, Yahoo! has been at it for a year with little success. Free email and social bonding don't appear to mix very well. Google Buzz is also based initially around contacts that have sent or received Gmail within the account. I'm not sure that folks want to tie friends, families, coworkers, and corporate spam into the same network.
I get it. Google already has the Picasa photo albums and YouTube video-sharing site in its corner. However, it also has owned the Orkut social-networking site for years, with little success in taking on Facebook. It's not going to happen by weighing down Gmail.
Which of these five moves do you think is the dumbest? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.