This week's mini-jumbo, semi-regular roundup of things that should make a Fool go, "hmmm," features IT shenanigans at Overstock, a tale of truth, honor, and the "outperform," and some curiously good timing for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Smoking gun at Overstock
Given the zeal with which Overstock.com
This individual, who is intimately familiar with Overstock's IT infrastructure, and whose public comments could potentially have the power to move Overstock's stock price, recently did the following:
In early August, he bragged about Overstock's amazing IT prowess, telling the press that a recent systems upgrade that should have taken six months was actually done in 70 days. (The system provider said it was a 70-day job, by the way.)
At about the same time, according to a private memo leaked to the media and well-masticated at CIO Insight, he was telling a different story. He was apologizing to key Overstock business partners, telling them that there were major IT problems that were going to get worse before they got better, and that some of Overstock's systems were "horribly architected."
Then, in early September, this individual sold the majority of his Overstock shares. Only days later, the news finally hit the Street that, because of the IT troubles, Overstock had been unable to upload inventory for a whole five weeks, with the result that the firm's warehouses were "stuffed to the gills."
Who is this person? None other than Overstock's Senior VP of Technology, Shawn Schwegman. Hmmm.
! I demand satisfaction!
A Piper Jaffray analyst gave me a smack with the virtual dueling glove this week, writing to tell me he was personally offended by my suggestion that his firm's recent "outperform" rating on a miniscule development-stage fuel-cell startup, HokuScientific
Heaven forefend! By all means, let us be courteous enough not to mention such potential for nonsense. (The rest of the business press, which repeated the bull thesis ad nauseum, certainly didn't bother.) Shall we also do the polite thing, and refrain from mentioning the fact that Piper -- and Thomas Weisel, the other firm that did investment banking with Hoku and came out with an "outperform" this month -- have, in the past, had to pay millions in fines to settle charges of conflicts of interest between the investment banking side and the analyst side?
I say no. Alas, if telling the truth makes me a discourteous rake, so be it. I choose facts, suh, at dawn: Hoku plays in a field with lightweight competitors such as 3M
By the way, Piper also makes a market in Hoku, meaning it stands to benefit no matter which way the stock moves, as long as it does move. And, following these "outperforms," it certainly has. Hmmm.
Now that's an intelligent design, Senator.
Only in our nation's capital could a congressionally-approved "blind trust" be neither blind nor trustworthy.
The news wires are buzzing with reports that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's blind trust chucked all of his stock in hospital outfit HCA
No big deal? Everyone gets out of a stock now and then? Not quite. Remember, this is the family biz, folks, founded by daddy, and Frist's brother just happens to be a director.
According to a Frist spokeswoman quoted by The Associated Press, after the senator's July 1 sale, his wife and kids managed to get out by July 8. Shares had spiked to about $58 a stub by that point. They currently sell for less than $48, which means that the senator's timely ship-jumping saved him a quick 15% at least.
Although, in theory, Mr. Bill has no idea how much HCA stock he held, nor any control over the exact timing of the sale, I mentioned earlier that the trust's blindfold isn't exactly tight. One wag quoted in The Washington Post said this is more of a "seeing-eye trust."
Mere coincidence that he got out when the getting was good? Maybe. After all, plenty of other insiders were dumping their shares in June, prior to the release as well, when the stock just happened to have been trading around its 52-week high. Besides, studies show that senators always seem to possess otherworldly stock-picking and timing skills, beating the market by 12 percentage points -- double the margin for company insiders. Good to be a millionaire with insider connections on Capitol Hill, hmmm?
Keep your eye on further Foolishness:
- Is there insider trading on Capitol Hill?
- With Hoku, the joke's on you.
- Take another look at Overstock's freaky Friday.
Seth Jayson will take Foolish over Wise any time. At the time of publication, he had shares of 3M. 3M is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Overstock is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. View Seth's stock holdings and Fool profile here . Fool rules are here .