The Motley Fool Radio Show on NPR is a weekly one-hour mix of Foolish commentary, interviews, phone calls, games, and special Fool features. On each week's show, David and Tom Gardner interview CEOs and celebrities and offer up The Motley Fool Take on some of the week's business news. Here are some highlights from our recent show. And you can always tune in to Fool Radio online at npr.org, or find out if we're on the air in a city near you.
Tom Gardner on WorldCom and White-Collar Crime:
Enron and WorldCom executives should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The problem is that the "full extent of the law" isn't terribly forceful; it certainly hasn't been an effective deterrent to white-collar crime in corporate America. Two years in minimum security jail with a croquet mallet. There should be zero tolerance and a mandatory 25-year sentence for anyone convicted of fraudulent accounting because offenders are putting all the shareholders, all of the employees, and all of the constituents of that company at risk.
Tom Gardner on WorldCom's lesson for investors:
1. Avoid companies making aggressive acquisitions. Invest in companies growing organically.
2. Avoid companies with large amounts of corporate debt. Enron and WorldCom had borrowed heavily and were desperate to report good business performance so that debt triggers wouldn't kick in and the interest on future debt wouldn't rise.
3. Invest in consumer-based companies that you buy from rather than companies like Enron, Tyco, or WorldCom.
On last week's government reports that the U.S. economy grew at a robust 6.1% in the first quarter of 2002:
David Gardner: While some of this economic growth is because of the depressed fourth quarter last year, the fact is that the economy is growing and this growth is a reminder that capitalism still works. The headlines have been dominated by stories like WorldCom and Enron, but most people are trying to make an honest buck and are trying to provide products and services that other people want.
Tom Gardner: The real question for this economy is whether or not businesses are going to come out and spend money hiring people and investing in new products and information technology. You're not seeing a lot of business investment yet. There is some consumer spending and there's a lot of home buying because of the low interest rates. But we're still not seeing much business spending.
The future of the Martha Stewart brand:
Tom Gardner: I think this will be very damaging for the Martha Stewart brand, but I think the company will get through it. I think the company needs to start creating a bunch of mini-Martha Stewarts so that Martha Stewart can take on a much lower profile in her company.
During his tenure as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Arthur Levitt championed issues such as auditor independence and greater corporate disclosure. Tom and David talked with him about WorldCom and declining investor confidence:
TMF: How concerned should individual investors be about WorldCom and the public markets today?
Levitt: I think individual investors should view WorldCom as more evidence that markets have to return to normalcy by squeezing some of the excesses of the '90s out of the market. Clearly, the numbers game was one of the most atrocious excesses of the '90s.
TMF: What can individual investors do to help restore integrity to the public markets?
Levitt: Investors ought to know which members of Congress are investor-friendly. There are very, very few of the them. Investors should hold Congress accountable by establishing scorecards for investor-friendly legislation. Only if investors flex their political muscle will they be able to try to right some of the inequities that have been created by a combination of forces that do not have investors interests first at heart.
TMF: How can investors know which companies have integrity?
Levitt: Most importantly, investors should start with a view of skepticism and become intellectual investors instead of emotional investors. If investors don't understand something, they simply shouldn't buy it. I think the failures of Enron, WorldCom, and other companies are partially failures of investors to recognize companies that are selling at a thousand times nothing. The chances are that they may be worth a thousand times nothing.
TMF: What do you say to the person who says that the public markets are littered with white-collar criminals who will never go to jail for crimes more heinous than bank robbery?
Levitt: In my judgment, many of these white-collar criminals will go to jail. We're in an era of excess right now and so you'll see regulators act like bull dogs rather than French poodles, and you'll see legislators coming out with proposals that would have been unthinkable a month ago. The question is whether this will endure.
If you'd like to ask hosts David and Tom Gardner a question on the air, just give us a call toll-free at 1-866-NPR-FOOL (866-677-3665).