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    Highlights for week ending June 15, 2002
  • American Prospect: Who Gets to Retire? A Republican pension plan could mean seniors will spend their golden years working under the Golden Arches. Excerpts: "According to the standard metaphor, retirement in America is a stool resting on three financial legs: Social Security, employee-pension plans, and individual savings. For more than a decade now, the political debate has been diverted by Wall Street's campaign for a privatization 'fix' for Social Security -- the one leg of the stool that is not broken. Meanwhile, the employee-pension leg is splintered and collapsing. With the exception of government employers and large unionized companies, the traditional defined-benefit pension has morphed into the famous 401(k), which is not a pension at all, but a personal savings plan to which the employer makes a defined contribution. The result has been to shift the risk that there might not be enough to retire on to the employee from the employer."

  • "keep_ur_promises" describes his firing by IBM. Excerpts: "I've been with IBM for over 28 1/2 years and just got my walking papers this week... but wait, there's more...I am currently on a medical leave of absence... been that way for a couple of months. Reason for leave -- severe anxiety, major depression and high blood pressure. Anyway, manager calls me at home and tells me." ... "I am 5 months short of qualifying for the retirement bridge...manager already said that I cannot have a personal leave to get me through the next 5 months. Net of all this...as a result of not being able to take full retirement at 30 years service (for want of 5 months), and the loss of lifetime medical benefits. IBM is screwing me out of somewhere between $700K and $1 million dollars...UNBELIEVABLE that they could get away with this."

  • MSN/CNBC: Contrarian Chronicles. Insiders know an overpriced stock when they sell one. Corporate chiefs may still be touting their shares in public, but in private, they're selling -- and that means we may have turned a corner toward reality. Excerpt: "Now for some thoughts on IBM. This is a story that demands lots of attention, but for now let me just point out that in the last five years -- during one of the greatest tech booms ever -– its revenue growth averaged about 2%, and yet somehow, the company managed to show 15% to 20% earnings growth. Obviously, a whole lot of prestidigitation was involved, and that is what's coming back to haunt IBM now." ... "...the corporate governance and sleaze factor are intrinsically entwined with the price problem, because in an attempt to justify prices in the mania, and in an attempt to make stock prices go even higher long after they were already absurdly priced, corporate chieftains and Wall Street engaged in unsavory conduct that is now becoming well known. This is a problem that will not go away immediately. It is part and parcel to driving stocks down to more reasonable levels. We are shattering the confidence in corporate America and Wall Street, which was always higher than it should have been."

  • Kiplinger's Personal Finance: Sometimes, You've Just Got to Let Go. If you own these stocks, make them disappear. Excerpts: "Conventional wisdom on Wall Street is that departing chief executive Lou Gerstner turned IBM around, but hedge-fund manager Bill Fleckenstein isn't buying it. IBM's revenues, he notes, grew a measly 3% per year, on average, in the late 1990s. 'If you couldn't grow the top line better than that in a tech boom, what does that say about the business?' Fleckenstein asks." ... "Beyond his contention that IBM is overvalued, Fleckenstein cautions that it's hard to know what IBM's earnings really are. Skeptics have long maintained that IBM's growth came not from better operations but from share buybacks, pension-fund surpluses, cost-cutting measures and one-time gains. It's highly unlikely that all the stars will once again align in IBM's favor, says Fleckenstein. IBM officials did not return our calls asking for comment."

  • Forbes: Trouble for Big Blue?

  • New York Times Magazine: Heads I Win, Tails I Win. Excerpt: " Executive pay has been soaring for two decades, but over the last couple of years, as many big companies have seen their stock pummeled, the pay-for-performance rationale that was supposedly driving these packages has been exposed as a fraud. Moreover, as executive pay has grown ever more dependent on share prices, the incentive to manipulate earning reports and thereby boost shares has also increased." If link is broken, view Adobe Acrobat version [PDF--86 KB].

  • Washington Times: Answers needed now. Excerpts: "For starters, America needs to know who's in charge of reaching closure on the accounting scams and the complete breakdown of corporate governance. But Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt seems incapable of putting together a much-needed reform plan. Will executive compensation gained from fraudulent or inappropriate activities be given back? That's hard to answer, because Mr. Pitt no longer talks about it." ... " Shouldn't corporate boards of directors be comprised mainly of outsiders, people who can make independent decisions? They should, but they're not. Shouldn't stock options be scored as legitimate liabilities, matched against the human capital of those who receive them, and then expensed properly on an income statement when the options are exercised?"

  • Business Week: Restoring Trust in Corporate America. Excerpts: "The lobbying started early. Even before the New York Stock Exchange could release its far-reaching proposals to upgrade corporate-governance standards, Chairman Richard A. Grasso began fielding calls from chief executives. Then came the letters of protest--at least a dozen of them--from some of the top business leaders in America, including the CEOs of General Mills Inc. and AT&T." ... "To many critics, Corporate America's leaders seem shockingly out of touch, blind to the deterioration in public confidence. A seemingly endless stream of bad news alleging widespread management negligence and malfeasance is chipping away at the trust vital to a free-market system." ... "The poster children of this crisis are garnering the headlines, but Enron, Global Crossing, Andersen, Tyco, and WorldCom are merely the more visible symbols of a far deeper and disturbing cultural shift in corporate mores. When a company as respected as IBM (IBM ) shovels $290 million from the sale of a business into its income statement to goose results, as the computer giant did last year, it's a sign of pervasive abuse. The maneuver may have been legal, but it was also blatantly deceptive." If link is broken, view Adobe Acrobat version [PDF--102 KB].

  • "wylie_quixote" describes his theory that "financial engineering by corporate (or government) folk are mostly just mechanisms to either a) borrow from the future, or b) steal from the past." Read more...
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have too much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." — Franklin D. Roosevelt
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