Editor's note: This Commentary represents one writer's viewpoint and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Motley Fool.
Where will the naked shorts strike next?
It's an article of faith among leading naked short conspiracy theorists, including Bob "Easter Bunny" "Not my real name" O'Brien, and Overstock.com
What do we make, then, of the current situation at TaserInternational
As you can guess, I was shocked -- shocked -- to see that the next thing out of CEO Rick Smith's playbook was to try his old Jedi mind trick. This time, he whipped out the naked short excuse, asking the SEC to fix that, too.
I've tried to give the Taser guys the benefit of the doubt. I really have. But this is beyond silly. Let me see if I get this straight. Insiders dump heavily last fall, selling $92 million worth of this stock just before major revenue whiffs and allegations of channel stuffing absolutely creamed it. At the same time, we got a glimpse at management's bad judgment in the person of board member Bernie Kerik, who was involved with all sorts of fly-by-night "security" companies. (To Taser's credit, it later sent Bernie packing.) Then Taser spends lavishly on a new HQ. Then revenues barely trickle in.
Yet naked shorting is the big problem?
I don't know about naked shorts, but you can see why legitimate shorters are doing anything they can to get their hands on these shares. Excuses generally don't flow well to the bottom line. And excuse-makers generally don't make their companies successful in the long run -- at least not for outside investors.
From the "Remind me to send Tom DeLay a fruit basket" file
Thank heaven for fresh meat. The hounds of journalism have moved on to the congressional scandal dujour. While his House counterpart found himself on the pointy end of a Texas felony indictment, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist saw the investigation into his excellent timing of a sale of his stake in the family business, hospital outfit HCA
Maybe they could also get some advice on how to set up a "blind trust" that lets you know what you own, choose when to sell it, and also keep stock in the family hospital biz, while simultaneously deciding the fate of health-care legislation, for years on end. That is, until you eventually decide that the long-term conflict of interest ought to be resolved. Right before the stock tanks.
A Frist spokeswoman reiterated that the senator will "obviously cooperate," which sounds too much like the defense offered by those Jerry Springer guests. You know, the ones who respond to criticism by shouting, "Hey, I take care of my kids!"
Sorry, Senator. No gold star for merely doing what you're supposed to do.
Hey, SEC? While you're at it, why don't you take another look at the past evidence of the Capitol Hill crowd's unbelievable stock timing? Oh, wait, you're run by a congressman now? Never mind, then. Nothing to see here.
Last week, I shared a tale of honor and offense, in which a Wall Street analyst took umbrage with my suggestion that his "outperform" rating -- or whatever goofy euphemism he used -- on HokuScientific might have had something to do with his company being one of the investment bankers that took that company public, not to mention making a market in the stock.
I'm preparing my inbox for more.
I just noticed that, earlier this month, the money-torching global satellite radio act that is WorldSpace
By now you should know the ending. The company that initiated coverage with a "buy" was none other than UBS, the firm that took WorldSpace public.
I know, I know. After the major Blodget/Grubman scandal that was eventually settled with the SEC, and all those millions in fines (UBS was one of the companies nailed, by the way), there are supposed to be "structural reforms," including "firewalls," "gatekeepers," "disclaimers," and other nifty-sounding business buzzwords to preclude conflicts of interest.
You should assume that this is a conflict of interest. If you want it more blunt, consider the words of a crusty colleague of mine, who groused, "If you think this recommendation is made in the interests of investors, then you're a [blank]." His last word rhymed with "boron."
From the "Be careful what you ask for" file
A PR operative from Bear Stearns recently wrote to suggest -- very politely, I must add -- that in discussing the recent flop at Movie Gallery
Presumably, Ms. PR thinks that doing a little tapdance on Movie Gallery's grave will earn Bear Sterns a bit more street cred. And if you peruse the stories around the date of this rating, you can see that Ms. PR was apparently doing a good job of lining up the head-nodding, anything-for-a-quote business journalists out there.
But how prescient was Bear Stearns? You be the judge. The Bear Sterns rating was initiated on Sept. 27. Movie Gallery announced the day before, on the evening of the 26th, that it was suspending its dividend. That move sent shareholders streaming for the exits. You know what might have been useful? A Bear Stearns underperform before the spit hit the fan.
So, while the biz scribblers out there may have made Bear Sterns look like a market-moving heavyweight, it's really just late to the game. That's not so easy to do, but Bear Sterns did it the old-fashioned way: Paint a target around an arrow that's already stuck in the wall, and then sweet-talk the deadline-addled, story-hungry journalists out there into praising your marksmanship.
That's the way of the Wise. Keep your eyes peeled.
For related Fool commentary:
- Repeek at last week's eyes on the wise.
- Hey, Taser. We're all ears.
- Naked shorts are just one of the reasons Bill Mann never misses the Overstock call.
Seth Jayson is obviously a complete Fool. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here, and all his shorts are fully clothed. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Overstock and Taser are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Fool rules are here.