investing · journalism

On CNBC for GameStop Mania Anniversary

I spoke about the book (out in a week!!!!) with CNBC this morning. I’m no natural on TV and always a bit nervous about condensing the insights of a whole column, much less a 320 page book, into a series of soundbites. But I think Andrew Ross Sorkin’s questions were sharp and my answers were acceptably concise. Check it out:

Columns · journalism

This is not a spoof

It sounds like a spoof, but a New Jersey company that says it values “your privacy” is suing to thwart an effort to end a costly and invasive practice: calls from strangers using faked numbers made to appear familiar or even official.

Earlier this year, North Dakota made it a crime to “transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud or cause harm.” The company, called SpoofCall, argues the law is unconstitutional according to a report by The Bismarck Tribune.

Ironically, SpoofCard was until last year part of a company that also offered a service to “find out who’s calling from blocked numbers.” IAC bought the parent last year but says SpoofCard wasn’t part of the deal.

Chief Executive Officer Amanda Pietrocola says the company only objects to provisions punishing callers for “defrauding people of their time.” “Our goal is to find a happy medium here.” She says SpoofCard doesn’t do business with robocallers but won’t disclose how many calls it enables daily.

Tracking down the company’s attorney was straightforward, but contacting Ms. Pietrocola through her company’s own public website took more effort: It doesn’t list a phone number.

Columns · journalism

Airlines Could Charge Us Even More

No, it isn’t by installing a credit card reader in the lavatory or making us stand (but let’s not give them any ideas). Airlines already have charged extra for “preferred seating” as in I would prefer not to sit way in the back of the plane next to a screaming baby. Apparently, though, those seats (which I often seem to get) make it far more likely that you’ll survive. I wrote about this at work.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are now ready for general boarding. Our diamond preferred ‘more likely to survive a crash’ passengers are welcome to come to the gate.”

You won’t be hearing an announcement like this at the airport any time soon, but it is a fact that some of the most and especially the least expensive seats on an aircraft give you better odds of living should tragedy strike. KLM India came under fire for spelling this out in a since-deleted tweet.

Discussing air travel fatalities isn’t only in bad taste but is believed to be bad for business. Or is it? U.S. airlines have found an additional source of income in recent years in charging for preferred seating—generally those that might have some extra legroom or let you deplane more quickly.

Seats at the back of the plane are therefore less likely to command a premium above the advertised fare, but perhaps they should according to KLM India’s tweet. Already-expensive ones near the front are slightly safer, but the fatality rate “is least for seats at the rear third of a plane.”

Columns · investing · journalism

In a galaxy far, far, away

The column I edit, Heard on the Street, has to find one mildly ridiculous business story for each issue of the paper, in addition to all the serious, analytical stuff. This usually isn’t a challenge, though there are occasional droughts when we have to dig deep.

Thank goodness for people like Patrick Byrne, CEO of He is a gift to seekers of corporate hilarity and I was a bit mean to him today.

Patrick Byrne felt a great disturbance among his shareholders, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out for an explanation. This compelled the chief executive officer of to write one of the more bizarre news releases in recent memory about his reasons for selling 900,000 “founder’s shares” of the retailer.
“Frankly, I had no idea that shareholders would demand explanations of why and how I might want to use my cash derived from my labor and my property to pursue my ends in life,” he wrote.
Mr. Byrne detailed a number of personal projects, including charitable causes, for which he needed the cash. Even after all these years, he is most famous for a different rant about an alleged conspiracy to damage Overstock’s share price involving a “Sith Lord.” Mr. Byrne backed efforts to expose and punish allegedly manipulative short sellers.

Despite some spikes in the share price, the short sellers were basically right. Since the 2005 “Sith Lord” speech, the stock has dropped by 77% compared with a 133% gain for the S&P 500.
Perhaps Mr. Byrne should have directed more energy to running the company. Do or do not. There is no try.

Columns · investing · journalism

Making Monkeys out of Hedge Fund Stars

The darts don’t lie

So we decided a year ago to poke some fun at the masters of the universe who unveil their stock picks each year at the Sohn Investment Conference . My team and I decided to throw darts at stock listings and see how things panned out. It was a blowout.

No animals were harmed in this financial experiment, but some human egos were bruised.
Burton Malkiel famously wrote in “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” that “a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by the experts.” A year ago the journalists at Heard on the Street decided to see if they could beat the crème de la crème—fund managers presenting their stock picks at the annual Sohn Conference in New York.
The results were brutal. Heard columnists, not monkeys, threw the darts at newspaper stock listings, but Mr. Malkiel would still approve. The columnists’ eight long and two short picks beat the pros’ selections by a stinging 27 percentage points in the year through April 22. Only 3 of 12 of the Sohn picks even outperformed the S&P 500.

journalism · The book

Mueller Needs a Literary Agent

I published my book without the benefit of a literary agent (long story), but going through the process without one made me appreciate what one can do for you, even if I got in the door at Penguin/RandomHouse on my own. This week I asked in an Overheard column how much money Robert Mueller could have earned if he had the rights to his free-to-read report on President Trump and his associates. Various versions were the number one, two, and four sellers on Amazon as of Monday morning.

If Robert Mueller was like most authors, he would be ’s website hourly to track the popularity of his eponymous report. He also would be jumping for joy. As of Monday morning, various versions of the partially redacted text occupied the first, second and fourth slots among all books.

Of course, unlike the opportunistic publishers charging money for the 448-page tome, which can be read for free online, Mr. Mueller won’t be receiving royalties on his best seller. The fortunes of the various versions, available for preorder for as much as $26.89 in hardcover and $10.22 in paperback, speak volumes, though.
No. 2 in sales overall is a version containing a foreword by legal scholar and sometimes Donald Trump defender Alan Dershowitz. Despite costing a dollar more, readers seem to prefer a copy less flattering to the president featuring analysis by three Washington Post journalists.

From the Overheard column, April 22, 2019

Some personal news …

The following memo went out today at The Wall Street Journal from finance editor Charles Forelle.

I’m delighted to announce that Spencer Jakab is the new editor of Heard on the Street.
Spencer is a rock of the Journal’s financial commentary. He has been deputy editor of Heard since 2015, and he wrote the Ahead of the Tape column for years before that. His knowledge of companies, markets and financial instruments is encyclopedic. (By my Factiva count, Spencer did nearly 800 Tapes in about 45 months; good luck finding a topic in our universe he hasn’t touched.) He is an incisive financial thinker who embodies the Heard’s spirit of smart, provocative and timely analysis. He also writes killer ledes. He’s the ideal leader for our expansion of the Heard.
Before the Journal, Spencer worked at the Financial Times and here at Dow Jones Newswires, and was a stock analyst at Credit Suisse. He is the author of “Heads I Win, Tails I Win,” which is, naturally, a book about investing.
Spencer’s move means we are looking for a new Heard deputy. Please get in touch with him if you are interested. And please join me in warmly congratulating Spencer. I believe he’llbecelebratingatOlive Garden.


Upset About the Election? Here’s Something You Can Actually Do


However you feel about the election this past week, it’s unlikely that you’re one of the small group actively taking part in protests against Donald Trump’s election or campaigning to get rid of the Electoral College. It’s silly and fruitless. The Donald chuckles at such impotence.

I’m a journalist, but the sort who keeps his political opinions fairly private. I don’t donate to political campaigns and haven’t registered to vote in primaries. One thing I’m not shy about, though, is standing up to thugs. I’m not calling President Elect Trump one, by the way. He hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet. I can tell you, though, that one thing that actually gets under his skin happens to be the same one that bothers authoritarian heads of state and corrupt businessmen worldwide: a free and vibrant press

In China or Russia or Turkey or Africa that often results in newspapers being shut down or even journalists getting murdered. Here, so far, we have disgusting antisemitic tweets, scary chants at rallies, and a threat by Trump to “open up our libel laws” and sue the media into submission.

Despite all that, the main threat to the American media, and dare I say democracy, is apathy. You’ve probably heard that about 100 million people – far more than those who cast a ballot for either Trump or Clinton – simply didn’t vote. But what about the people who didn’t read a newspaper or support one? The reason so many people you and I know are shocked by Trump’s victory in the face of a mountain of concerns about his past conduct, his personality, and his agenda is that we relied on ethical, trusted sources of information about him.  But, according to Pew, just 21% of people ages 35-44 read a newspaper yesterday, down from 44% in 1999. Just 18% of Hispanics of any age did.


Many people, perhaps including you,  read a newspaper article reached from a link on social media today but didn’t read another article in the same paper. And you probably didn’t pay for it. The total circulation revenue of all U.S. newspapers in 2014 was just $10.9 billion. It’s now just half of the sales of Starbucks. Between 2006 and 2014 the number of people employed in print journalism fell from 55,000 to 32,900. It’s probably below 30,000 now. Just this past week dozens of people in my newsroom lost their jobs and two sections were discontinued while two others were merged. The result is a thinner paper.

Do you subscribe to a newspaper or do you just graze on whatever is free on the Internet? Do you subscribe to more than one? Well here’s something you can do that will drive Donald Trump up the wall. You can do it right now at the expense of giving up a few cappuccinos a month or waiting a little longer to upgrade to that snazzy new iPhone: subscribe to an old-fashioned print newspaper.

Yes, this is what feeds my family, but it isn’t an act of charity and you don’t have to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal. Buy The New York Times or The Washington Post or your local paper. You won’t just be making a political statement.

Reading a print paper instead of zeroing in on the specific article you want to read on your phone or computer leads you to read all sorts of other articles you weren’t looking for but are glad you found. You don’t get that kind of serendipity in your targeted Facebook news feed or even a digital newspaper app. You’re also getting something hand-delivered to your house that’s an amazing daily undertaking put together by people who could be earning more in a different job and who take a lot of infuriating crap doing it. Even though I don’t write about politics, I get all sorts of nasty comments when I write something people don’t like, disparaging me or my profession, putting “journalist” in quotes. We get called the “lying media” and worse. And yes, of course, the result isn’t perfection. But what a newsroom full of journalists produces is a wonder. I think the British critic AA Gill said it best:

Newspapers are the size of long novels.They’re put together from around the globe from sources who want to lie, to manipulate, to sell things, hide things, spin things. Despite threats, injunctions, bullets, jails and non-returned phone calls,journalists do it every single day, from scratch. What’s amazing, what’s utterly staggering, is not the things papers get wrong, it’s just how much they get right.

Come on, make a statement by going retro and reading a paper or two made out of dead trees.