In a topsy-turvy market amidst an uncertain world outlook, it pays to remember that we -- all of us, as individual investors -- can really make a difference. Personal finance columnist Humberto Cruz recently reminded us of this, quoting former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt who said in an interview, "As a group, the 79 million American investors could be the most powerful lobby" in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street.
Cruz gave props to the Fool community for its response during the Regulation Fair Disclosure debate, which has now opened a new era of transparency among public companies. "That's the first time in my memory that small investors played a role in getting a rule adopted over the protests of Wall Street's lobbyists," Levitt told Cruz.
Now's the time to reap the benefits, Fools. Thanks to Regulation FD, you can get the same information at the same time as the hot-shots on the Street. Take advantage of it -- listen to webcasts of conference calls, comb through company SEC filings, interact on our discussion boards, and spread your knowledge. And most of all remember: The fight is not over. We still have much work to do.
In today's Motley Fool Take:
- Citigroup's Wrists Slapped
- Shameless Plug: Motley Fool Credit Center
- Philip Morris Chokes
- Discussion Board of the Day : Philip Morris
- Top 10 Ways Capitalism Fights Back
- Quote of Note
- Homestore May Trip AOL
- Call Your Boss a Fool!
- Quick Takes: GE, Wyeth, Boston Celtics , more
- And Finally...
The NASD announced this week that it was imposing a fine of $5 million against Citigroup
Excuse us? Did you say $5 million? Wow, NASD, we're pretty sure Citigroup will be able to come up with that much money by checking the seat cushions in the boardroom. Way to put your foot down. This doesn't even come close to negating the $20 million-plus that Citigroup subsidiary Salomon Smith Barney garnered in investment-banking deals from Winstar, much less the trades the company's brokers foisted upon clients as a result of this tarnished research.
What kind of deterrent is it for companies from breaking the rules if you fine them less than a quarter of the money their illicit activities generated in the first place?
We're somewhat mollified by the fact that this fine does not address other analyst and investment-banking issues under investigation by the NASD, the New York attorney general, and various regulators. In fact, this morning, Citigroup is reportedly close to agreeing to a separation of research from investment banking, along with paying another fine of some sort. This deal would then be taken to all of the various authorities. If there is a fine, this time may we suggest it come in a form that would at least make 'em hurt?
Credit can be your best friend or your worst enemy. And you know what they say: Don't turn your back on your enemies. Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate. So it's time to address that big elephant in the closet -- your credit. We've got your back! Visit our new Motley Fool Credit Center, and learn how to make credit work for you.
Proving that smoking stocks can be dangerous to your health, Philip Morris
Whether or not one regards the world's largest cigarette maker as a sin stock to avoid, the simple fiscal truth is the company had been a steady financial performer. Earnings grew like clockwork. Dividend hikes came with every passing year. It was recession-resilient, growing and paying out a juicy 6% yield. That's the dating scene equivalent of finding someone with good looks, a killer personality, and a meaty dowry to boot.
But cheaper imported smokes and higher state excise taxes have driven the conglomerate's tobacco market share down to just 49%. To get the country's butts back into its butts, Philip Morris will embark on some aggressive promotional campaigns. That may not sit well with anti-smoking groups, and it could be even harder for shareholders to swallow. Pouring more money into marketing will hurt margins in the near term.
Philip Morris thinks it will be able to kick this latest habit. Despite the current hiccup, it sees earnings climbing by 8% to 10% next year. Not only were analysts expecting the bottom line to move ahead by 12% in 2003, but that target comes off the 2002 mark now being talked down to profit growth of no more than 5%.
A few words of cautious optimism: Yes, the company is still growing its earnings. Yes, the stock's forward P/E ratio remains in single digits. Yes, the $2.56 a share it is paying out in dividends over the course of the year is a far better yield than the long bond. And while the overhang of tobacco litigation may keep this stock selling at a discount to the market's valuation, the value argument is pretty easy to make here. It can't -- cough, cough -- drag this way forever.
The stock dropped 11% today.
There's more to Philip Morris than a pack of smokes. Its also got its hooks into the world's second-largest food company, Kraft. Do you think the stock is a bargain now? What about the smoking-related lawsuits? Will the company ever get past those? And what was the deal with changing its name to Altria? All this and more -- in the Philip Morris discussion board. Only on Fool.com.
Over a thousand anti-capitalist activists descended on Washington, D.C., this week to protest annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Tactics included rushing into the street to impede traffic flow and breaking bank windows. Over 600 were arrested.
But good ol' capitalism doesn't sit back and watch the action. That's not in its nature. It fights back, of course, and here's how.
Top 10 Ways Capitalism Fights Back
10. On sale at Target -- today only! -- Kevlar ballistic helmets and 3/16" zinc-plated coil chain.
9. Drenched and shivering on Pennsylvania Ave., several protestors are spotted heading to Starbucks for a hot double latte.
8. "IMF Riot '02: I was there!" T-shirts, now 2-for-1 at Freedom Plaza Park.
7. American Airlines reveals protestors asked for a group discount on tickets and arranged to fly at an off-peak hour.
6. Five heavy-set protestors seen singing, "I wish I was an Oscar Mayer Weiner" on the corner of K Street "to score some free dogs."
5. West Wing producers scramble to incorporate protest in next episode's script.
4. L.L. Bean coordinates protest with launch of its all-weather, rubber bullet-proof, heavy-duty backpack.
3. D.C.'s homeless renting park benches and plots below underpasses to protestors for $5 per hour.
2. Two protestors retain legal counsel, claiming they have First Amendment rights to urinate on the White House fence.
1. New -- Coke Pepper Spray! Loaded under high pressure, just pop the tab of the famous red can and surprise your assailant with a powerful, 30-ft. blast of oleoresin capsicum pepper. Just $29.99.
"The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility." -- Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience
Until lately, the practice known as "round-tripping" was confined mostly to the energy industry. Companies such as Dynegy
Now we discover that round-tripping has occurred in other industries as well. Three former executives of Homestore
The former execs -- COO John Giesecke, CFO Joseph Shew, VP John Desimone -- face anywhere from five to 10 years in prison. That may seem harsh compared to softer penalties meted out to other trippin' companies, but these three allegedly profited from the fraud by selling Homestore stock when it was near peak levels.
The final piece of this puzzle will eventually fall into place when the government announces the findings of its ongoing investigation into AOL's accounting practices. The media giant's stock, which is down over 60% this year, will not awaken from its slumber until that cloud has passed.
Think you know more about this finance stuff than we do? Believe you might as well work here, given all your comments and analyses? Good! We're looking for a couple of smarty-pants Fools to join our team as writer/analysts. Head on over to jobs.fool.com, and see the listings under Editorial. Show us what you can do, and we might just agree with you!
The world's second-largest home-improvement retailer, Lowe's
Two days after General Electric
Shares of Wyeth
The owner of the Boston Celtics
In local news, Kwik-E-Mart owner Sam Melton agreed to stop selling animals after a giant python escaped from its cage and swallowed Mrs. Cheever's pet rabbit, Lucky.
Today on Fool.com: JP Morgan Chase falls from grace.... To sell or donate that clunker in the driveway? Consider these tax advantages.... In Fool's School, how to save money on chow.... The Fool Community discusses the big techs' business strategy.
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