Our panelists give you the scoop on all the inside business information before you hear it anywhere else in The Informer segment:
David Asman: Leigh, let's start with you. Retailers. It'll be a tough Christmas?
Leigh Gallagher, staff writer: We're looking at one of the worst retails Christmas's in over a decade.
David Asman: But you say there are still retailers who won't do so bad.
Leigh Gallagher: That's true. There are some retailers who are impervious to the seasonality of Christmas: Wal-Mart (WMT), Bed, Bath & Beyond (BBBY), Costco (COST), Kohl's (KSS), Dollar Tree (DLTR), these retailers sell a lot of items and they sell them cheaply.
Bob Lenzner, national editor: Why is it going to be so bad?
Leigh Gallagher: Well, several factors. There are six fewer shopping days in the season this year, there are no must-have fashion items like sweater sets or cargo pants, there's backed up inventory at West Coast ports thanks to the strike a few weeks ago, and add to that, plunging consumer confidence and there's probably not going to be snow.
David Asman: Does anybody think that maybe retailers or going to be surprised this year?
Elizabeth MacDonald, senior editor: I'd stay away from the entire retail sector all together until we see the shakeout. I wouldn't go near any of these stocks right now.
David Asman: Well Bob, you're not going anywhere near banks.
Bob Lenzner: It was just disclosed that the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller are doing a special investigation of the way banks value the loans on their books and the loans they've promised to make. And they're saying it doesn't look to them like they're really carrying them in fair value.
David Asman: Which specific banks are doing this?
Bob Lenzner: JP Morgan Chase (JPM), all the really major banks.
David Asman: What about Citigroup (C)?
Bob Lenzner: It's a great company, but there may be things hidden away there, they may not be fully reserved on some of the loans, and some of the loans they may be carrying on the books may not be worth what they say they're worth.
David Asman: Elizabeth, you're our accounting cop, what do you think?
Elizabeth MacDonald: I think that the fair valuation that Bob is referencing is a huge problem with the banking sector. I think it's going to bite them.
Scott Woolley, associate editor: But it's worse for the smaller banks because those are the banks that these big banks ship these bum loans on to. The bigger banks that issue them, that might be the real scandal.
Bob Lenzner: They've pushed these loans on to the foreign banks, and there they don't even know what they're holding.
David Asman: This was a big election week, but we didn't see Ross Perot. What's he up to?
Elizabeth MacDonald: We haven't seen him for a while. The thing with Perot Systems (PER), the company that Ross Perot founded, a Plano, Texas computer services company, is it has a lot of quality of earnings problems. We see the stock hanging in there at 10, I see it going to 5. It's got operating cash flow problems, but more importantly market regulators are going to start cracking down on a practice that is widespread throughout the computer services industry, they're letting companies book revenue for sales when they haven't even sent the bills out to customers yet. Perot Systems is a big practitioner of this method and, if fact, the amount that they booked tripled.
Leigh Gallagher: Wouldn't the smart investors already have bailed from this stock with the slashes in corporate spending that are going on? And another thing is that they just landed a $46 million account from a state HMO in California.
Elizabeth MacDonald: No, investors have not bailed and they haven't realized that this is a really serious development with regards to what market regulators are doing.
David Asman: We've got to move on, now you've got the Forbes cover story Scott, what is it?
Scott Woolley: It's about what's going on with all the airwaves, and one of the weird things in the airwaves is that no one watches UHF TV anymore, so you might think all these stocks are worthless. The airwaves are tremendously underused, and they're given to people like UHF TV stations, and these stocks have really been in the tank. But because of these regulations, folks like PAX Communications (PAX) and Univision (UVN), they own these licenses. They may turn out to be incredibly valuable because they can get onto cable systems. They have six channels for every on-air channel on cable systems. It's incredibly valuable distribution.
David Asman: We have to warn that Paxson has a very small market cap, that is it's one of those volatile stocks. We heard just a while ago that the head of the FCC was going to deregulate everything. What happened?
Scott Woolley: Well, they just came out with a report, and they're trying but these broadcasters have shown an ability to make tons of money thanks to government regulations. And the odds of that continuing are pretty good.
Leigh Gallagher: But that's a legal lottery ticket, you don't know if that's going to happen.
Scott Woolley: That's true, but there's not much downside and the upside is huge.
Makers & Breakers
First Virginia Banks (FVB)
Rob Black, President of GLB Group: MAKER
What you're talking about is a regional bank so you don't get the international exposure. You've got six years in a row of record earnings. You're talking about an income play in a market that wants income. It's a dividend play.
Jim Michaels, editorial vice president: BREAKER
Rob, you're putting me to sleep with this one. It's a good bank, it kind of creeps along gradually upwards, it's not cheap by comparison with other regional banks, a year's not huge. I can't see any reason to buy it, though it's a good company.
Mike Ozanian, senior editor: MAKER
This bank is run by a bunch of very conservative, old-fashioned bankers, but you know what? I like it because I'll be able to sleep at night. Earnings growth has been rather slow but very steady. This isn't a Citigroup or any other bank like that where you're going to get some nasty surprise.
P.F. Chang's China Bistro (PFCB)
Rob Black: MAKER
I like it because it's only in 25 states. It's a small cap company that can still grow. They've increased their cash flow tenfold in the last three years. They've increased they're profit 300 percent in the last three years. That's the ancient Chinese secret; that there's still growth out there.
Mike Ozanian: BREAKER
This one gives me heartburn and I'll tell you why. They are growing earnings fast, but that's only because they are opening up a lot of restaurants. Those restaurants, open a year or more, sales are only increasing about 5 percent.
Jim Michaels: BREAKER
There's no shortage of Chinese Restaurants in the USA. I won't buy it.
Rob Black: You're talking about profitability, you're talking about no debt, you're talking about every store they open there are lines at. And it's all about location, they're right next to the Cheesecake Factory, I think it's a winner.