"[Jeff Bewkes] is a terrific piece of manpower." -- Frank Biondi on why he'd like Bewkes to work for him if Carl Icahn succeeds in his plan to break up Time Warner
"Whisper" numbers are back. When Google (GOOG) shares fell 12% in after-hours trading on Jan. 31, that was because the search engine's quarterly earnings met analysts' estimates but fell short of the expectations that had been pinging around trading desks and regular-Joe investors for weeks. The power of those whisper numbers may surprise anyone who assumed they went the way of the dot-com boom. But they seem to reemerge whenever companies beat expectations. John Scherr, president of estimate collector WhisperNumber.com, says: "We've heard that story since 2001, but expectations never leave the market."
If anything, whisperers may have gained Street cred. A study by San Jose State University professors Janis Zaima and Maretno Harjoto finds the market relies more on the crowd's wisdom than on big-brokerage forecasts. The study found that markets move modestly when profits beat or fall short of Street estimates, but really move when varying from the whisper. It recommends betting on whisper numbers when they differ from analyst projections.
The next chance to test the theory? On Feb. 15 whisperers expect Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) to report it earned 50 cents a share in the fourth quarter -- 6 cents more than analysts forecast.
Move over, GM. Michael Moore has a new corporate bogeyman. On Feb. 3 the muckraking filmmaker posted a letter on his Web site headlined "Send me your health-care horror stories." Moore, who first made waves in 1989 by going after General Motors (GM) in Roger & Me, is now targeting the $1.9 trillion health-care industry with an upcoming film called Sicko. And he wants real-life examples of hospitals, insurance companies, and drugmakers run amok.
If health-care execs worry that they might be demonized, Moore's letter leaves little doubt: "...Maybe you've just been told that your father is going to have to just, well, die because he can't afford the drugs he needs... and it's then that you say, 'Damn, what did I do with Michael Moore's home number?!"' Moore says he'll read each letter: "...if you have been abused in any way by this sick, greedy, grubby system and it has caused you or your loved ones great sorrow and pain, let me know." No surprise, drug companies already wish Moore would just go away. "He has no intention of being fair and balanced," says Ken Johnson, senior vice-president of the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America.
Not all interns are created equal. While many toil away in corporate mail rooms for little or no compensation, some finance majors on Wall Street will earn up to $15,000 this summer. February marks the height of undergraduate recruiting for firms such as Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, and a few lucky candidates are getting a decadent taste of what's to come. After multiple interviews at top schools, finalists are flown to headquarters to mix and mingle with senior managers. The selling involves more than just pizza and bowling. "They're getting wined and dined in New York, staying at the finest hotels, and eating $400 dinners," says Steven Rothberg, president of CollegeRecruiter.com. "It's absurd, but it works."
There's a reason for Wall Street's open-wallet policy. With undergraduates making up 75% of new hires at Merrill, relationship-building is paramount. "If they're not with us, they're with our competitors," says Connie Thanasoulis, Merrill's chief operating officer for campus recruiting. Most companies won't discuss specifics, but Merrill recruiters say they cover all candidates' expenses, including travel, lodging, meals, and sometimes even those of a "significant other." Dude, is it too late to change majors?
Most clothing retailers are adding bigger sizes as people get fatter. But one is moving in the opposite direction: In recent weeks, Banana Republic has added -- suck in your gut now -- a size "double zero" to its women's pants, skirts, and dresses to cater to sylphs who just can't quite fill out a size 0. The chain says a "00" fits a woman with a 31-inch bust, 23-in. waist, and 32-in. hips. The average woman wears a 12, with proportions of 39-31-41. Still, the tiny size may attract a new market for Gap Inc. (GPS) unit: teen girls, who are more likely to look like Twiggy than its current core of thirtysomething customers.
WHY READ IT
Editor Josh Rubin and an eclectic group of contributing writers present a daily digest of the newest, coolest developments at the intersection of design, culture, and technology.
From a discussion of a new type of glass pane for use in offices: "As office space becomes tighter, we're crammed in closer quarters without an ounce of privacy. But Lumisty gives us some respite from the panopticon gaze of our fellow workers.... [The glass] is only completely transparent when the viewer looks at it head-on."
The old adage is, never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. These days, Big Business also is learning not to antagonize video game designers. As Mitsubishi, McDonald's (MCD), and FedEx (FDX) Kinko's found out, they can get nasty and mock your product by making a game of it. Increasingly, the spoofs are popping up on the Web.
Software engineer Shawn McGough says he created Melting Mitsubishi after the paint on his new Mitsubishi Lancer wore away just months after purchase. Players must zap raindrops and spinning Mitsubishi logos away from a yellow Lancer before its paint melts off. In an anti-McDonald's game created by Molleindustria, an Italian company specializing in games for activists, players switch back and forth between a McDonald's farm, feedlot, restaurant, and headquarters. Players can boost their score by fattening cows with hormones and firing inefficient workers, hitting on themes familiar to critics of Big Food. If profits dip, an evil-looking Ronald McDonald admonishes: "Shame on you, you bankrupted the company!"
In Disaffected! from Persuasive Games, players staff a Kinko's counter. Employees have one mode, indifferent, as they grunt, confuse orders, or refuse to work. The game ends when irate customers exit without paying. More than 50,000 people have downloaded Disaffected! since its debut in mid-January, says designer Ian Bogost. But it may have an unintended effect. "It made me appreciate what [Kinko's] employees must go through," noted one player on gaming blog Joystiq.com. Kinko's says it takes "strong exception" to the characterization. Mitsubishi declined to comment; McDonald's had no response.
The Jack Abramoff scandal may slow the flow of favors from K Street to Capitol Hill. But one activist group is determined to get senators rocking. The Intellectual Property Action Committee (IPAC), which promotes digital copyright standards that help new technologies, is collecting money to buy each senator a video iPod, at $324.42 apiece (including sales tax).
The move was inspired by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). IPAC President David Alpert says the octogenarian has a keen understanding of digital copyright issues thanks to an iPod he got from his daughter: "Having an iPod...lets senators understand the technology that their legislation is going to affect." IPAC says the iPods are contributed as in-kind donations to senators' campaigns, which is legal under current law. The group has received money for 12 so far.
Less than three months before jury selection is to begin in his second federal criminal trial, former HealthSouth (HLSH) CEO Richard Scrushy is asserting his right to an impartial jury. In his eyes, that includes challenging the racial composition of the grand jury that indicted him as well as the panel from which jurors will be selected. Scrushy asked a federal judge on Jan. 24 to let his legal team examine jury records in order to substantiate his claim that central Alabama juries "systematically under-represent African-Americans," according to an affidavit filed with his motion. He is set to go to trial on May 1 on charges that he bribed former Alabama Governor Donald Siegelman in exchange for influence over a state hospital regulatory body.
Prosecutors are concerned that Scrushy is trying to replicate a strategy that worked in his last trial. He was acquitted on accounting fraud charges last June by a jury of seven blacks and five whites after months of courting local black church congregations and clergy ("Richard Scrushy's 'Amen Corner,"' BusinessWeek Online, Jan. 20, 2006). Scrushy asserts through court filings that while counties in the Middle District of Alabama are about 30.5% African American, the jury selection process in that district results in juries with a substantially lower share of African Americans. On Feb. 3 the court issued an order granting Scrushy's team access to limited jury records. If he can substantiate his claims, he's expected to renew a request to dismiss the indictment. Scrushy's trial attorney could not be reached for comment.