CHICAGO (CNN/Money) -
Last year, the buzzword on every tech executive's lips was "visibility." (It was often preceded by the words "lack of," as companies that used to confidently predict clear skies forever suddenly decided they couldn't see a foot in front of them.)
These days, execs seem to be taking their cues from Snuggles the fabric softener bear, as companies ranging from giants like AOL (parent company of this Web site) to eBags ("the world's leading online provider of bags and accessories for all lifestyles") cite "softness" in the economy as a sort of catch-all explanation (or perhaps simply an excuse) for results that are less than stellar.
My favorite use of the term comes in this convoluted mess of corporate verbiage found in the earnings release issued after the bell Tuesday by US Unwired, a Louisiana-based wireless-communications company:
"Historically, demand for new wireless services has been weak in our markets during the second quarter," company President and CEO Robert Piper said in a statement. "This year, that softness was compounded as we curtailed demand by requiring a deposit from credit-challenged customers in our southern markets and experienced high involuntary disconnects in our sub-prime credit classes."
In other words: We decided it wasn't so smart to keep signing up so many deadbeats.
I recently did a little poking around on Amazon.com to see what investors are reading (or at least buying) these days. The No. 1 investment book, at least among Amazon shoppers? Robert Prechter's "Conquer the Crash," a gloom-and-doomy how-to guide intended to help investors avoid becoming "zombie-eyed victim[s]" of the "deflationary depression" that the author thinks is right around the corner.
That got me wondering how some of the ultra-bullish books of a few years back are doing these days. Not too well it turns out. "Dow 36,000," James Glassman and Kevin Hassett's guide to "Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market," has slipped to No. 23,632 on Amazon's ongoing tally of sales. Meanwhile, "Dow 40,000: Strategies for Profiting From the Greatest Bull Market in History" has dropped to No. 48,865.
These books may not be drawing many new customers, but they're still drawing some rather icy customer reviews. "Dow 36,000," Matt from Connecticut, USA writes, "Hahahahahahahahahaha. That's a good one. Dow 36,000. Haha. And to think that once upon a time this thesis was taken seriously. Hahahahahaha. Haha. Heh. ::wipes tears from eyes::."
Do No Harmon
It wasn't that long ago that Internet booster Henry Blodget left Merrill Lynch to write a book (that was the reason he gave, anyway). But Blodget is not the only bubble-era tech-stock guru with literary ambitions.
Take Steve Harmon, whom you may vaguely remember from a couple years back when he was being celebrated in the press as an independent tech stock "visionary." Harmon appeared regularly on CNBC and day traders gobbled up his stock picks.
He even started his own mutual fund, the immodestly named e-harmon Internet fund. As the tech market crashed, so did Harmon's little empire. The fund was shuttered and a scathing article in Business Week accused him of soliciting money for business ventures from tech executives "while talking up their stocks." Today, he writes a pricey tech newsletter.
But he's also writing a novel -- a sort of sci-fi thriller about a dashing young inventor who develops a computer chip that's part animal tissue, part silicon. In hopes of luring readers in, he's put the first two chapters of Hybrids online.
It's not just bad; it's "Plan 9 From Outer Space" bad, overstuffed with hackneyed ideas, cliché-ridden run-on sentences and other grave offenses against the English language. Here's a little excerpt, in which "man-boy genius" Ben Cormac hangs "by his fingertips" from the Golden Gate Bridge (and no, we don't know why):
Arms up stretched overhead like a hanging rag doll, Cormac's navy blue suit gripped hard under his arm pits [sic] ... Cormac's thoughts raced. Things like this didn't happen to university inventor of the year [sic], who just a few years ago graduated with honors from the Stanford Graduate School of Business...Class valedictorian and an IQ of 180 didn't matter now. Time for gross motor skills and brute force.
Who would have thought the life of a man-boy genius would be so ungrammatically dramatic?
By the way, Steve Harmon's 2001 book "Zero Velocity," a nonfiction guide to the rough and tumble world of venture capital, currently ranks No. 247,300 in Amazon's tally.
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