Forgive us Mark Twain, but when it comes to Vertex Pharmaceuticals(VRTX) recent meltdown, it’s less about “lies, damn lies and statistics” than a case of stupidity, damn stupidity and statistics.
Shares of Vertex tumbled 11% Tuesday, after the high-flying biotech released corrected data involving its cystic fibrosis treatments that drastically reduced the number of patients who showed better lung function. Back on May 7, the company’s stock shot up 55% after Vertex released a far rosier set of figures, which at the time inflated investor hopes that Vertex was indeed close to introducing an effective, not to mention profitable, therapy to fight the life-threatening genetic disorder.
Oh lord, that’s just ridiculous. To paraphrase the great Twain once again: What a bunch of jackasses! Or maybe it was Samuel Clemens who said that line, we aren’t quite sure. We always get those two guys mixed up.
Seriously though, we are quite certain that Vertex is trying to shift the blame for the statistical screw-up that sent its stock on its own version of a wild Mississippi river ride. The company swears the error was the result of a vendor’s misinterpretation of the data, not its own.
“This mistake is very disappointing,” said CEO Jeffrey Leiden on a conference call with analysts. “It’s unacceptable to us.”
Give us a break Jeffrey. What’s really unacceptable is that fact that you didn’t double-check the denominator yourself before going public with the findings.
So the next time you have market-moving news to deliver, we suggest you follow Twain’s timeless advice and “get your facts first and then you can distort them as much as you wish.” Not the other way around.
4. Carl’s Chesapeake Fable
There’s a moral to the story somewhere in the mess that is Chesapeake Energy(CHK) . Fortunately for us, Carl Icahn is on a mission to find it.Â The billionaire investor revealed Friday that he has purchased a 7.6% stake in the embattled natural gas producer, making him the third-largest shareholder in the company. Furthermore, the shareholder activist, who is well known for shaking things up once he selects a target, is demanding that at least four of the company’s directors be replaced, saying the board has failed “in a dramatic fashion” in its oversight of the company’s management.
Well, we can’t argue with Carl there. The board has been downright miserable in its attempts to corral CEO Aubrey McClendon and curtail his wildcatting ways. That said, it’s not like they haven’t totally been trying to put a leash on Aubrey. In fact, just this month the board announced plans to select a new Chairman and separate the Chairmanship and CEO roles.
Alas, that’s not enough for Icahn who disclosed in a letter Friday that: “Having the current board select a new chairman without shareholder approval and without allowing for shareholder representation is akin to asking the fox, who has plundered the hen house, to choose another fox to assist it in standing guard over the remaining hens.”
To be honest, we have no clue who the foxes and the hens represent in Icahn’s fable. Likewise, we have no idea when Carl Icahn, who has often played the wolf in sheep’s clothing as a corporate raider, turned into Wall Street’s version of Aesop. Nevertheless, Carl does have a point that this particular board cannot be trusted after it has been outfoxed by Aubrey for all these years, profiting greatly from its blissful ignorance along the way.
Despite Icahn’s huffing and puffing, Chesapeake’s board clearly does not want to give up its golden goose so easily, and responded by essentially telling Icahn to back off. Unfortunately for the board, however, they have another wolf at their door in the face of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who runs the state’s pension fund. DiNapoli urged shareholders in a letter Tuesday to withhold votes to re-elect two members of the natural gas producer’s board.
Echoing Icahn’s attacks, DiNapoli said his assault is a “necessary first step toward reconstituting a board that is currently entrenched and unaccountable to shareholders.” A spokesman for the company similarly dismissed DiNapoli’s call for board changes as “old news.” Nevertheless, based on the stock’s 3.5% rise on Tuesday, the market is clearly not treating Icahn or DiNapoli like The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
3. Grim at RIM
Just a few weeks ago Research in Motion(RIMM) was adding captains of industry to try and turn around the ship. Now the Blackberry maker looks like it’s hiring investment banks to sell it before it sinks. Boy, what a difference a month makes at telecom’s version of the Titanic.Â Shares of RIM sank 8% Wednesday after the company unexpectedly forecast an operating loss for its fiscal first quarter and announced the hiring of JPMorgan(JPM) and Royal Bank of Canada(RY) to review its “business and financial performance.”
Beyond saying the company would report a loss and that the next few quarters would be “challenging,” CEO Thorsten Heins did not provide specific earnings guidance. Prior to Heins’ bomb-dropping, Wall Street was expecting RIM toÂ report first-quarter earnings of 49 cents per share on $3.65 billion in revenue on June 28.
As for the I-banks, Heins said in a statement they were hired to “evaluate the relative merits and feasibility of various financial strategies, including opportunities to leverage the BlackBerry platform through partnerships, licensing opportunities and strategic business model alternatives.”
Wow. What a load of resume-filling fluff! We don’t even know what any of that corporate jibberjabber means! We do know, however, what those big-hitting bankers will recommend to Heins once they complete all those meaningless tasks and that is to unload the company while it still has a smidgen of value left.
Nonetheless, it may take the bankers a while to convince a stubborn Heins that a sale is his best option. Apparently RIM’s CEO is still holding out hope that his two big hires from last month — Frank Boulben as chief marketing officer and Kristian Tear as chief operating officer — will help the company turn the corner, or at the very least keep it afloat and independent.
In our admittedly Dumb view though, the Canadian powers-that-be certainly do not wish to see the Waterloo, Ontario-based company meet its own Waterloo anytime soon, especially after the demise of national treasure Nortel three years ago. And at some point, they are likely to pressure an unwilling Heins to assess all his options if it means saving jobs, including a sale to a more seaworthy buyer.
2. Pep Boys Goes Pop
Fess up Manny, Moe and Jack. Which one of you bubbleheads is to blame for breaking up the Pep Boys(PBY) buyout?
Private equity firm Gores Group walked away from a $791 million deal to acquire the auto parts retailer Tuesday, causing the company’s shares to sink 20% to $9. Gores had agreed in January to pony up $15 a share for Pep Boys, but the buyers got cold feet earlier this month after realizing the business was in greater need of repair than they originally thought.
Now it looks like the marriage has been canceled entirely. The company has also scrapped this week’s shareholder meeting to approve the deal. The good news, however, is that Pep Boys will get to keep the wedding gift, which in this case is a $50 million breakup fee from Los Angeles-based Gores.
“Our current intention is to use our cash on hand and the settlement proceeds to pay down our term loan this year and then to refinance our senior subordinated notes in 2013,” said Pep Boys CEO Mike Odell said in a statement.
Well, that’s nice to know Mike, but after the company pre-announced profits and sales forecasts far short of Wall Street’s expectations last month, it’s clear that investors are more interested in the company’s strategy to fix the business than they are in plans to trim liabilities.
Let’s face it Boys, this latest failed attempt at a sale will only scare off more suitors, so it’s now or never to show more Pep than ever.
1. Spain’s Spidey Cents
How bad is the banking situation in Spain? Well, at recently nationalized lender Bankia, the bank’s brass is turning to Spiderman to save them. Seriously, it’s that bad. Bankia, which at last check was set to receive a $24 billion state bailout, announced plans this week to offer a Spiderman towel to young depositors as part of its plan to keep customers from yanking their money from the troubled bank. Kids can collect their Spidey souvenir if they save 300 euros ($380) by the end of the month.
Momento creyentos! (Or, as Spiderman’s creator Senor Stan Lee, would say “Hang on True Believers!”) There is more to the offer. For every 50 euros saved, Bankia’s account holders can enter a drawing for a trip to the webslinger’sÂ hometown of New York City.
Oh man, how cool is that! A Spidey towel and a potential trip to NYC. Bankia’s new CEO Jose Ignacio Goirigolzarri has really saved the day after a run on the bank nearly sank it. Talk about a guy who really understands the Spiderman maxim: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
That said, even with his cockamamie comic-book plan, Goirigolzarri still looks like a superhero compared with the financial villains that preceded him. Top executives at Bankia pocketed salaries totaling 22 million euros ($28 million) in 2011 despite the bank losing 3.3 billion euros ($4 million), mostly because of bad real estate bets. Former chairman Rodrigo Rato, who resigned last month after it became clear that his bad bank would not survive without assistance, earned 2.4 million euros ($3 million) last year.
Hey! Rodrigo Rato. The Green Goblin. What’s the difference? The big question, of course, is whether the European Central Bank will approve the all-important Spiderman promotion. On Wednesday the ECB issued a statement denying a report in the Financial Times that it was going to reject Spain’s plan to recapitalize Bankia.
“The ECB stands ready to give advice on the development of such plans,” the central bank said in a statement. Forget advice. Bankia needs money. And if they don’t get it, all those Spanish kids with their passbook savings accounts can forget about flying to NYC to see Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.
They’ll be home in Spain watching Bankia: Turn Off the Lights instead.