FOOL ON THE HILL
The Week That Was

He who doesn't study history is doomed to go to summer school to try to make up for the failing grade. Last week had its moments. Rick Munarriz takes a closer look at some of them.

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By Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)
March 11, 2002

Last week was wild. In case you missed it, let me see if I can catch you up on a few interesting tidbits from the world of business news. You'll have to forgive my jaded commentary along the way. Like I said, last week was pretty wild.

Monday
Verizon (NYSE: VZ) announced that the company would be laying off the "budgetary equivalent of 10,000 employees." What? They fired the CEO? They canned the "Can you hear me now?" guy? I'll tell you this, I never fancied the first wave of Verizon ads with folks flashing the "V" is for victory hand sign. I mean, what was with that? It was like the greeting at a Trekkie convention for folks with lonely fingers. Rotate the "V" by 45 degrees and you have a better image in your hands. The stock is trading lower than it was when GTE and Bell Atlantic hooked up to become Verizon two years ago.

Fuel cell visionary Ballard Power (Nasdaq: BLDP) reported a wider fourth-quarter loss. Making matters worse was the fact that the company revealed that it only has enough cash on hand to fund operations through 2004. Go figure. Here's a company that can make a car run, in theory, on hydrogen cells that can be stripped from something as simple as water and what does it need to fuel itself? Money? Greenbacks? Hypocrites!

With a buoyant housing market keeping homebuilder stocks erect, high-riser D. R. Horton (NYSE: DHI) announced a 3-for-2 stock split. Let's put this in home-friendly terms for the split process impaired. It's like you have a duplex, right? Well, in a few weeks you'll have a triplex. But don't get too excited. You see, we're actually gutting a third of the duplex to make room for the third homestead. So it's still the exact same square footage -- only you have one more address to contend with. And, yes, I hear your new neighbors have a dog that barks all night long too.

Tuesday
Oh, that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT)! The software bad boys asked a federal judge to delay a hearing to decide on harsher remedy proposals stemming from the company's antitrust case. Microsoft asked for two weeks. By Friday the court would counter with just one week. Bah! The judge should have shot back with Judgment version 2.0, on the spot. Sure, it would be a little buggy and rub the early adopters the wrong way, but fixes, upgrades and equitable justice would eventually find its way to market. It's the Microsoft way. Honest.

Interactive television specialist TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO) and electronics superstore Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) formed a strategic marketing agreement. Best Buy will be the exclusive retailer of the TiVo Series 2 -- the next generation set-top broadcast recording device. Missed the news? Check back to see if your TiVo box was glued to CNBC. If not, walk into your local Best Buy store and ask around. Don't be surprised if they hand you their weekly sales circular and try to sell you a warranty plan on the circular itself.

Sensing that the market was ready for some dot-boom nostalgia, spunky online retailer Overstock.com dusted off plans to go public. The only problem is that while sales are climbing nicely at the cut-rate e-tailer, the company has posted losses over the past two years. The company sells merchandise that was crafted in abundance but is available cheaply once it has fallen out of favor. Guess what you'll be able to buy at Overstock.com in a few months? No, really. Guess.

Wednesday
It was a case of class dismissed at Conseco (NYSE: CNC) after it announced that CFO Chuck Chokel was parting ways with the company to -- cough, cough -- "pursue other interests." But rather than leave vague departure language good enough alone, CEO Gary Wendt then sent a memo to employees to stress that Chokel didn't resign. He was fired. Booted, baby! Gary didn't feel that Chokel was "up to the job." In short, clear out your office Chuck -- but leave your pride behind. 

It's more revenge of the dot-coms as Netflix.com filed to go public. The flat monthly fee online DVD rental specialist is looking to raise $115 million on the deal. Interested shareowners can contact the company's lead underwriter, Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER), for a prospectus. If they are granted shares will they be able to mail them back once they're done to check out something else?

Itching for something to buy, Chattem (Nasdaq: CHTT) acquired the Selsun Blue dandruff shampoo line from Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT). Wall Street didn't see this as a "flaky" move by Chattem, sending the shares 10% higher. Shareholders? They're just tingly. 

Thursday
Maternity apparel retailer Mothers Work (Nasdaq: MWRK) hit a new two-year high after posting a 5% improvement in February same-store sales. Patrons celebrated by lifting the pickle spears out of their Haagen Dazs vanilla cups and raising them to the sky. But, seriously, it's great to know that as bad as times may have seemed over the past year, we're still having babies in droves. Note to recent Fool editorial daddies Bill Mann and Robert Brokamp: shoot for originality next time, will ya?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration shot down Sepracor's (Nasdaq: SEPR) anti-allergy drug Soltara. Sepracaor will try to address some of the agency's concerns and resubmit the application. I don't know, maybe I have a bit of a Dirty Harry mean streak going, but it would have had more Hollywood-quality luster had Sepracor executives confronted the agency officials, tripped over a vat of perfectly harmless pollen and cat hair, flipped on a fan, and bolted saying "Don't call us, we'll call you, FDA."

As battered Enron (OTCBB: ENRNQ) auditor Andersen installs a "Take-a-Number" machine to its clientele's exit interviews, troubled air carrier Delta (NYSE: DAL) became the latest company to, well, take off. Can it be that cash-squandering Delta's attempt to file Southwest's (NYSE: LUV) profitable income statements as its own was rebuffed by Andersen? No. That never happened. But it's getting pretty bad when a company that posted a loss of $9.99 a share last year is the latest to give you the kiss off. Before you know it, all those companies posting deficits of 10 bucks a share or more will start bailing. You know, wherever they are.

Friday
Video game maker THQ (Nasdaq: THQI) announced a 3-for-2 stock split. Okay, remember that duplex exercise from Monday above? Let's say you're playing a two-player split-screen video game. Then you have another buddy show up who wants in on the gameplay action. Don't worry, you've got the third controller. Great. You restart the game -- for three players this time -- and now the screen is split into three screens. Notice how your television set didn't get any bigger? Notice how your playing area got a little more cramped? Who invited this buddy of yours over anyway?

The new General Electric (NYSE: GE) annual report came out, and it's thick. You can read it online to see that the conglomerate is going all out to pack financials and integrity into the mix. "GE is trusted -- because we perform," writes CEO Jeffrey Immelt. If you hold the report to a bright light you might see a watermark that reads "We are not Enron!" or "Tyco (NYSE: TYC) Shines Our Shoes."

Finally, Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW) is slapping Microsoft with a billion dollar antitrust lawsuit. Sun claims that the software maker shipped Windows XP without Java support. Am I reading this right? Sun is pissed because Microsoft programmers opted for Jolt Cola over coffee to get their caffeine fix while they were coding away on the latest operating system? Come on now, Sun. There's a Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) on every block. No one is trying to give Java a raw deal.    

And that's not all, you know? This market is action-packed. It was a strong week for stocks and the economy is looking bright. I'm about the only thing dimming around here.

Rick Aristotle Munarriz knows that it's easier to make fun of the past than to look to the future. Still, you can get great box seats to history in reverse. Rick's stock holdings can be viewed online, as can the Fool's disclosure policy.