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The government breaks down the financial meltdown. Intel tries to be cool. A lawsuit asks Taco Bell: Where's the beef?

By TheStreet Staff Jan 28, 2011 12:01PM

Image: Wall Street sign (© Corbis/SuperStock)

 

Here is this week's roundup of the dumbest actions on Wall Street.

 

5. The unabridged guide to financial meltdowns

In just over 630 pages, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission laid out its indictment of Wall Street titans including Goldman Sachs (GS) and Bank of America (BAC), extinct Wall Street species like Merrill Lynch, and lenders that were synonymous with the mortgage crisis, like Countrywide Financial. Government entities including the Securities and Exchange Commission, and even more so, the Federal Reserve, are chided in a way that would make Fed-buster Ron Paul very happy.

 

Truth be told, 633 pages might not be enough to do justice to the idiocy that passed for an advanced, well-functioning economy in the period leading up to the crisis. Phil Angelides, the commission's chairman, who went head-to-head with many financial bigwigs during the FCIC hearing process -- and even forced Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett to testify under order of subpoena -- took issue with the idea that no one could have seen this crisis coming.  

 

Opinion: As other fast-food joints roll out premium menu items, Taco Bell's challenge to accusations about its beef shows it cares more about offering inexpensive eats.

By InvestorPlace Jan 28, 2011 10:20AM

Taco Bell restaurant in Los Angeles / © Reed Saxon/APBy Jeff Reeves, InvestorPlace.com

 

At fast-food restaurants, there has been a recent focus on raising quality and using natural ingredients. Wendy's has introduced skin-on fries with natural sea salt and has embraced the slogan "Quality is our recipe." Burger King revamped its breakfast menu to include fancy offerings such as a ciabatta breakfast sandwich with eggs, ham, bacon, tomato and cheese. And then there's McDonald's, which has seen sales soar, thanks to a push for a premium line of McCafe beverages that make it as much of a destination for mochas as for McNuggets.

 

Then you have the other side of the coin in Taco Bell, which now faces a lawsuit charging its taco filling isn't even beef.

 

Regardless of whether the legal action has merit -- the company has started denying the claims vehemently in a recent ad blitz -- it highlights the fact that Taco Bell hasn't really been focused on quality recently as other restaurants have. And this should serve as a wake-up call for the company and its corporate parent, Yum Brands (YUM).

 

The online retail giant is run brilliantly -- just not for the stock market.

By Jim Cramer Jan 28, 2011 9:49AM

jim cramer of thestreetWhen push comes to shove, Amazon (AMZN) doesn't care enough about stockholders -- short term, at least.

 

The mantra of CEOs these days, the good ones, is "profitable growth for all." I hear it from Ford (F), and I hear the echoes of it from all of the great turnarounds in the industrial arena.

 

The problem is time frame. Amazon truly does believe in growth, but it has not always believed in profitable growth, and it has never cared about smooth profitable growth. So if it sees an opportunity, or recognizes that the stock and its accoutrements have to be ignored for a while, or that people expect too much right now, then it just lowers the boom on you.

 

That is why it is so hard to own.

 

Continued pessimism about Brazil's inflation prospects raises concerns about the country's big domestic banks.

By Jim J. Jubak Jan 27, 2011 7:06PM
Jim JubakThis is a very tough call.

If I owned more than one Brazilian bank stock, I might not sell Banco Bradesco (BBD) out of Jubak’s Picks today -- but I don’t.

If I had less exposure to Brazilian stocks in my Jubak's Picks portfolio, I might not sell Banco Bradesco -- but I own Cosan (CZZ), Gerdau (GGB), and AmBev (ABV) as well.

If I could sell just a part of my position in the stock, I would sell just part of the position -- but I can’t in Jubak’s Picks.

So today, Jan. 27, I’m selling Banco Bradesco out of this portfolio with a 5.8% loss since I bought it on Nov. 17, 2010. What has pushed my concern to action is continued pessimism among Brazilian analysts and economists about the inflation picture in Brazil. Economists have raised their 2011 inflation forecast for a seventh straight week to 5.53% from 5.42%. For 2012, the forecast rose to 4.54% from 4.5%.
 

The automaker says it will bring the electric car to all 50 states this year as it fights for a share of the ecofriendly vehicle market.

By TheStreet Staff Jan 27, 2011 4:10PM

By Ted Reed, TheStreet

 

General Motors (GM) says it will speed up the Volt rollout, making the innovative car available in every state by the end of the year.

 

"We're accelerating our launch plan," said Rick Scheidt, U.S. vice president, Chevrolet Marketing, in a statement. "This is the right thing to do for our customers and our dealers who are seeing increased traffic onto their showroom floors."

 

Volts have been delivered to customers in the five states -- California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Texas -- and in Washington, D.C. Customer deliveries in Michigan will begin this spring.

 

In a strong message to Comcast and other foes, the online movie streamer posts a list of the best Internet providers for watching videos.

By Kim Peterson Jan 27, 2011 2:01PM
Credit: (© Paul Sakuma/AP)
Caption: Netflix DVDLooks like Netflix (NFLX) is pulling out the big guns in its brewing battle against cable operators.

The company is sending a message to the Comcasts and Time Warners of the world: If you mess with us, we'll tell your customers about it.

In a letter to shareholders, Netflix chief Reed Hastings said that starting today, he'll post a list of the Internet providers offering the best and most consistent experience for streaming videos. The top one, he says, is Charter Communications (CHTR).

This gets at the heart of some ongoing nastiness between Netflix and a few cable companies -- namely, Comcast (CMCSA). Netflix customers are bandwidth hogs, and some reports say that at peak times, their video streaming ties up 20% of downstream Internet traffic. 

Global X debuts a pair of broad, style-specific funds, each with a different approach to tracking growth in developing economies.

By TheStreet Staff Jan 27, 2011 12:27PM

Image: Globe (© image100/Corbis)By Don Dion, TheStreet

 

Emerging markets remain attractive regions of the globe for internationally minded investors. Now with the launch of two new products, investors can gain exposure to this slice of the geographic pie from a style perspective.

 

Global X has become a particularly exciting member of the ETF industry to watch. Although this fund sponsor initially generated a following within the ETF industry with its collection of international products that tap into previously unexplored corners of the globe, more recently it has expanded its overall focus, attracting crowds of commodity-hungry investors with the release of precious and base metal-related miner funds, including the Global X Silver Miners ETF (SIL) and the Global X Uranium ETF (URA).

 

With the launch of the Global X Russell Emerging Market Growth ETF (EMGX) and the Global X Russell Emerging Market Value ETF (EMVX), Global X has once again returned to its international roots. However, for Global X, these  funds highlight an interesting new focus.

 

The hard-drive maker remains compelling after an interesting earnings report.

By Motley Fool Pick of the Day Jan 27, 2011 11:49AM

And here I was, exactly two weeks ago, commenting on how the market expects very little from Western Digital. Turns out, it wants to change the economics of the entire industry on its own. Jim Mueller explains.

 

Rex Moore, Motley Fool Top Stocks editor

 

At the beginning of the month, I bought an initial 2% position in hard drive maker Western Digital (WDC) for my Messed-Up Expectations portfolio. At the time, I believed that the market was underappreciating the continued need for inexpensive mass storage for digital content. After Tuesday's earnings release, I believe that's even more the case.

 

Not only that, but I believe the market's short-sighted concern with management's comments about over-supply of hard disk drives in the pipeline and how Western Digital is going to deal with that is continuing to hold the price down, giving us an opportunity to buy more shares.

 

A drop of 19 basis points would have been bad -- but 190? It's a reminder that you would rather be producing commodities than consuming them right now.

By Jim Cramer Jan 27, 2011 10:54AM

Jim cramerAnyone who has listened to conference calls so far this quarter has to be struck by the total relentlessness of the analysts when it comes to gross margins -- to the point where some analysts are openly questioning the success of projects if the gross margins aren't good enough.

 

I am not kidding. Wednesday's Verizon (VZ) call had a question right at the top about whether some dramatic growth in FiOS could be hurting the company!

 

Which is why I blanched when I saw the gross-margin numbers from Procter & Gamble (PG) this morning, a decline of 190 basis points.

 

Hey, 19 basis points would be bad. But 190!?!

 

Now, that's a negative!

 

The company is so well run that it was still able to deliver the numbers. Procter & Gamble is much better than it used to be. This margin contraction is truly ugly, however, and it is a reminder that you would rather be producing commodities than consuming them.

 

Boeing shares slid today after a grim earnings report. The drop is one more chance to get into the stock.

By Jim J. Jubak Jan 26, 2011 5:05PM
Jim JubakWhat can I say? It could have been worse. And the company (as well as investors) dodged the big bullet.

Boeing (BA) reported fourth-quarter earnings of $1.56 a share, including 45 cents in special items. Those special items included a 50 cents-a-share gain from a tax settlement. Wall Street analysts had been looking for $1.12 a share without special items. 

Revenue dropped almost 8% from the fourth quarter of 2009 and, at $16.6 billion, fell short of the Wall Street consensus of $17 billion.

Looking out at 2011, things weren’t much better. The company told Wall Street to expect earnings of $3.80 to $4 a share for the year. That’s well below the consensus projection of $4.55 a share. The big ding in 2011 comes from increased pension expenses, projected to cost the company 58 cents a share more in 2011 than in 2010.
 

Some Chinese small-caps got on to U.S. exchanges through loopholes -- and investors need to be extra careful with them.

By Kim Peterson Jan 26, 2011 4:50PM
Image: China (© Brand X/SuperStock)It's hard to manage the tricky territory that is investing in China. We hear all the time about how hot China's current and future prospects are, and yet we read about investors getting burned on Chinese stocks.

James Surowiecki of The New Yorker makes a strong case against jumping into the hundreds of small-cap Chinese stocks that trade on U.S. exchanges. "While some of these firms are indeed thriving enterprises, more than a few seem to be specialists in a less savory business: ripping off investors," he writes.

He lists two stocks that have burned investors. The once-hot Fuqi (FUQI), a jewelry maker that said last year it had overstated earnings for the first three quarters of 2009. The company still hasn't filed a new earnings statement, Surowiecki reports. Fuqi now trades at about $5.30, down from $32 in September 2009. 

The retailer walks away from building a supercenter near a Virginia battleground dear to preservationists' hearts.

By Kim Peterson Jan 26, 2011 2:50PM
A gravestone marker on the spot where the arm of General Stonewall Jackson is buried is near the Ellwood house in Locust Grove, Va. Civil War history will play out in a rural Virginia courtroom this week when Wal-Mart Stores Inc. defends a planned store near the hallowed site where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first met on a battlefield in 1864 (© Steve Helber/AP)A Wal-Mart Supercenter near a hallowed Civil War site. Yeah, that's going to go over well.

After fighting historians for two years on the issue, Wal-Mart (WMT) has suddenly dropped plans to build a store near the Virginia battlefield where Robert E. Lee first met Ulysses S. Grant in 1864, The Associated Press reports.

The store wasn't intended for the actual heart of the battlefield -- that's inside a protected national park -- but it was nearby. Wal-Mart said the area already had retail locations and was zoned for commercial use. The county board of supervisors approved Wal-Mart's permit for the 50-acre property in 2009. 

Analysts expect 11 million Verizon iPhones will be sold this year, which will be a boon to mobile application developers.

By TheStreet Staff Jan 26, 2011 2:47PM

thestreetSteve Jobs iPhoneBy Olivia Oran, TheStreet

 

With Verizon (VZ) expected to sell 11 million Apple (AAPL) iPhones this year, mobile application developers should see a windfall in the number of customers using their products.

 

New Verizon iPhone users -- and the subsequent launch of iPhones on other CDMA-based carriers -- could help expand Apple's App Store next year by $1 billion, according to research firm IDC. The App Store is estimated to reach sales of $6 billion, up from $2.8 billion last year.

 

"We think there will be a feeding frenzy with the Verizon iPhone of tons of people downloading apps like crazy," said Sam Altman, the founder and CEO of Loopt, a Mountain View, Calif., location-based social game. "It's going to be a land grab."


With more iPhones in the market, some app developers may choose to focus more aggressively on building games for the iOS platform, even if they continue writing apps for Google's (GOOG) Android software.

 

And unlike Android, for which developers must ensure their app works on a variety of different handsets, the iPhone runs on only one device, which makes building programs simpler.

 

Yes, the economy is improving, Nouriel Roubini says. But huge problems still lurk for the US and Europe.

By Kim Peterson Jan 26, 2011 2:06PM
Economist Nouriel Roubini. Credit: (© Chiang Ying-ying/AP)Wait a minute. Could Dr. Doom actually be feeling optimistic these days?

Noted economist Nouriel Roubini -- known for his gloomy predictions of financial upheaval -- actually admitted a global economic recovery is taking place. "Balance sheets are strong, confidence is rising," he said today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Fantastic -- we're back on track! Well, not so fast. If you follow Roubini, you know there's a "but" lurking in there somewhere. And here it is: But the possibility of a double-dip recession is still very real, he added.

Check out this video report for more news from Davos  

This utility is off the grid when it comes to juicy payouts.

By Motley Fool Pick of the Day Jan 26, 2011 12:24PM

Is there such a thing as a low-risk, high dividend yield? If there is, National Grid could be it. My Foolish colleague Jim Royal makes the electrifying case.

 

Rex Moore, Motley Fool Top Stocks editor

 

Do you like a fat dividend? What about a growing dividend? And a company with a legalized monopoly that can keep those fat payouts climbing? Then I think you're going to love this outstanding stock, which I've been buying for my own portfolio in the past few months.

 

OK, I'm not buying it as of this minute, because of the Fool's disclosure rules, but as soon as the Fool's rules permit, I will be scooping up more. That stock is National Grid (NGG). There's a lot to like about this regulated utility, and it can make a great investment in times of uncertainty such as we have today.

 

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