In the business pages this week: Enron, Enron-related fallout, potential Enron-related fallout, fears of additional Enron-related fallout, the story behind Enron, and, finally, the consequences of Enron. And this just in: Dow 10,000! Again. Barely.
Not necessarily Enron: The other big news this week is fresh attention to an SEC investigation of accounting practices at Global Crossing. Would you be more interested if I told you that this story has striking similarities to Enron? Global Crossing honcho Gary Winnick recently received a “Moneybox” Genius of Capitalism Award. Bonus: Here’s an anti-Global Crossing Web site, Global Double Crossing. I, of course, don’t endorse such sites, nor the adult language therein, but I do think the attack site has become a form unto its own. Someone should give out awards to the best ones.
Hewlett smackdown: The business story that would be getting the most ink in an Enron-free world is the battle over the proposed merger between Hewlett-Packard and Compaq. Walter Hewlett, board member, son of the company’s founder, and opponent of the deal, issued a statement on Feb. 11 through his anti-deal Web site saying that the very idea that H-P had carefully thought the merger through is “pure fantasy.” The company’s pro-deal site includes a Feb. 13 “open letter” to Hewlett saying, among other things, “you have insulted our personal commitment and fiduciary responsibility.” What’s fascinating about the squabble—apart from the fact that it’s gotten so heated—is the rare degree to which Web-enabled arguing for the votes of citizen shareholders is playing out in full public view.
Brawny make-over: You know the guy on the packages of Brawny paper towels? Mustache? Looks, as a branding consultant commented in the Wall Street Journal, “like a 1970s porn star”? Well, he’s going on vacation, and while he’s gone, he’ll be getting a new look. Brawny packages will feature Richard Petty in the meantime. No joke. Actually the Brawny guy got a mild make-over some years ago: He used to carry an ax and wear a red flannel shirt. More recently he switched to denim and got his hair and mustache trimmed. (Here’s a comparison.) That wasn’t enough. We eagerly await the New Brawny Guy.
Final indignity: It’s pretty unusual to see a stock analyst quoted in an obituary, but even in death William Dillard, founder of the department store chain, could not escape Wall Street’s arrows. In thisTimes obit, a Prudential Securities analyst complains that the company’s declining earnings should have forced a change in management, but the Dillard family controls the key voting stock. From a high of $50 in 1992, the stock is lately down below $20, the obit notes. Shares briefly rallied on speculation that the family will now sell. In another corporate obit highlight, ex-Forbes editor James W. Michaels had this to say about deceased hostile-takeover artist Victor Posner: “He was a low-quality, cynical, greedy man.”
Jargon: “Fast-Casual.” The Wall Street Journal explains this is “an emerging segment of the restaurant industry that offers higher-quality food without table service.”
Accounting jargon:Forbes introduced a new term to the now-growing vocabulary of accounting skepticism: the “synthetic lease.” Krispy Kreme, a hot stock for a while now, has used such arrangements, which allowed the firm to keep the costs associated with a new $30-million-plus facility off its balance sheet. Hope you learned this new term quickly: The doughnut chain has now dropped the scheme because it “could be misinterpreted.”
Statistic: Amount by which local phone bills, on average, have risen since the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act, designed to spur competition: 17 percent.
By any other name: KPMG Consulting took out a full-page newspaper ad to announce its one-year anniversary as a public company. Why bother? The ad prominently notes that KPMG Consulting is “completely separate and independent from the audit and tax firm whose name we bear.” Sounds like the name is, in fact, a burden. The ad’s real message: You can trust us; we’re not accountants!
Spin: Anita Roddick has stepped down as co-chairperson of the Body Shop, which she founded. She’ll now serve in a “defined consultant role.” An executive at the company tells the Journal, “In this new position, we’ll get a lot more out of her.”
Actual guy, or creation of NBC/Olympic marketers? Apolo Ohno. You decide.
Oscar commentary: That Amélie—she is so adorable!
Recommended: The Condiment Packet Museum (via Paul Lukas). Mickey Kaus’ Series Skipper on Michael Saylor of MicroStrategy—handily summarizes a four-part series from theWashington Post. (Why that paper devoted so much ink to a guy who was interesting for about a week, two years ago, remains a mystery.) Vinyl Killer, by Drums and Tuba, especially “No Accommodation for Buffalo” and “The Diagram.” Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton, pretty much the whole record. Site featuring streams of hundreds of 78-rpm recordings (via Charles Franklin). L.A. Weekly interview with Shepard Fairey, the artist/designer whose famous Andre the Giant posters I used to see all over New York; here’s Fairey’s site, where you can check out some of his striking posters—buy a few, and send one to me. Hope you all had a nice Mardi Gras.