Chump Change

Remember that Austin Powers flick where Dr. Evil threatens to blow up the world unless he gets "$1 million"? Everyone laughs at him.

Dr. Evil is to be forgiven, of course, having just come out of years of a deep freeze before which $1 million was a lot of money.

Here's another figure for you: $1 billion.

That's how much some major U.S. brokerage houses are set to fork over to settle government charges that their research stinks and their analysts stink more.

It got me thinking. What's $1 billion in the scheme of things? It's chump change, especially if the chumps don't get it.

Chumps like trusting investors, who were foolish enough to think analysts stood by their stock recommendations only to discover they did not.

Investors who thought when an analyst gave his word on an investment that he didn't call it a "turd," as one was quoted, behind closed doors.

No, $1 billion might sound like a lot of money. But not when you consider for a lot of folks, it was all their money and then some.

Dr. Evil? He has nothing on these guys.

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