KILL THE CFO?

Steve Meyer: ‘Your column Tuesday moved me to ask whether you’ve changed your mind on my ‘Wheel of Misfortune’ idea (where convicted white-collar criminals would face the random possibility of the death penalty)? Would the perpetrators of ‘aggressive’ accounting and sham deals be so keen if they knew they’d ‘face the wheel’ if what they did was found to be a crime? I rather think not.’

☞ I think you’re right. And it is, at the least, an intriguing fantasy. Indeed, if you saw 60 Minutes Sunday, you saw guys in prison for 35-years-to-life under California’s ‘Three Strikes and You’re Out’ law for such third offenses as stealing a bicycle, stealing two double-AA batteries, and stealing a slice of pizza. If these penalties are appropriate, then perhaps the occasional lethal injection in the executive suite is, too. But I would argue against both. Maybe some intermediate punishment? Thumbscrews?

IF WE DON’T KILL HIM, AT LEAST PUT HIM TO WORK?

From the Progressive Policy Institute, arm of the Democratic Leadership Council: ‘Six years after President Clinton signed legislation ending welfare as we know it, which replaced the unconditional entitlement to cash aid with temporary cash aid conditioned on work, it is ironic that there is one major group in society that still gets public support without a work requirement – prisoners. While our nation has made great strides in the last few years to move welfare recipients from dependency to work, surprisingly, we’re moving in the other direction when it comes to transitioning prisoners to paid work. Fearing competition from prison labor, union and business interests have mounted an aggressive lobbying campaign to roll back paid prison labor, in spite of the fact that it can provide convicts with useful skills they can use upon release while at the same time helping to offset some of the cost of housing prisoners.’

☞ Click here to read the whole thing.

AND LET HIM WORK EVEN IF HE’S GAY

Like 60% of the Fortune 500, Mobil explicitly banned discrimination based on sexual orientation – until Exxon acquired Mobil and nixed that language. As noted in this space before, ExxonMobil may thus be the only Fortune 500 company ever to have rescinded a discrimination ban. Thus the boycott of ExxonMobil, which is as simple as driving 30 yards to the competition.

Is this some liberal commie plot?

Yesterday, Institutional Shareholder Services recommended that ExxonMobil shareholders vote to add sexual orientation to the company’s Equal Employment Opportunity statement. As the Wall Street Journal reported, ‘ISS says…most of ExxonMobil’s competitors ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and ExxonMobil’s failing to do so puts the company at a disadvantage [in the competition for talent] and invites possible litigation.’

In a world where shareholder resolutions rarely garner even 10% of the vote, this one scored 23.5% yesterday, up from 13% the year before. Not bad! But let’s keep boycotting until ExxonMobil restores the anti-discrimination ban and, for that matter, reinstates Mobil’s domestic partnership policy. Gas is gas. May as well buy it from good neighbors.

THREE MORE FROM DICK DAVIS:

Item 15: Brilliant Market Calls

Many of the best known market analysts have earned their celebrity from one brilliant market call. If widely publicized, that one great call can insure fame for a long time despite the fact that it is rarely followed by another great call. Some names that come to mind include Joseph Granville, Robert Prechter, Henry Kaufman, Henry Blodgett, Howard Ruff, Jim Dines, Elaine Gazzarelli and Abbey Joseph Cohen. Others, like Michael Metz and Alan Abelson achieve notoriety because they are perennial bears and the media seek them out in bull markets to give balance to their stories.

Item 16: Advice From Brokers

Brokerage firms have lists of recommended stocks on their shelves at all times and in all markets. To increase your odds of success, focus on the stock that an experienced, informed broker feels most strongly about; in other words, the issue he feels compelled to buy tomorrow with his own money. I would shy away from brokers whose knowledge was limited to the research of his own firm. He or she should be aware of what the competition is recommending, of important articles in popular, market-impact publications like ‘Barron’s,’ ‘The Wall Street Journal,’ ‘The N.Y. Times,’ key interviews on CNBC – and share that information with you, even if it conflicts with the views of his own research department. No single source, no single firm has a monopoly on being right about the stock market. One caveat: when considering a recommendation, remember that the odds are against a stock going up when the market is going down. Stocks do not act in a vacuum.

Item 17: What’s A Reasonable Price?

It is crucial to buy a stock at a reasonable price. It makes all the difference in terms of the length of time you’re going to have to hold on to it. As obvious as that sounds, that’s how difficult it is to do. What’s reasonable? It can depend on such variables as the prevailing sentiment of investors, the visibility of future earnings, and the level of interest rates and inflation. A conservative approach is to buy when a stock is priced at the lower end of its historic range of price/earnings ratios. Or to buy when a stock is inactive, depressed and out of favor (providing, of course, that you’re convinced the bad news that’s causing its unpopularity is temporary). Buying unloved stocks is very difficult because you don’t have the support of the crowd. Investors put the most money in stocks at the highest prices and the least at the lowest prices. If you buy only amid the fever and excitement of rising prices you can go through an entire bull market and lose money. But if you buy during quiet times in a reasonable buying range, you can often avoid the interminable years of waiting that comes from buying high, riding the stock all the way down and then (hopefully) all the way back up again.

 

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