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Cashtag Blues

Last summer, with relatively little fanfare, Twitter added clickable stock symbols to its tweets.
This is how it works: Add a “$” in front of a ticker symbol in Twitter’s search box and you’ll be able to engage in conversations about a particular company, similar to what would happen with a hashtag “#” followed by the name of your favorite pop star.

twitter
In social media circles, introducing the “cashtag” is yet another way to stimulate chatter among people
who are interested in a particular topic, such as public companies. But like all seemingly helpful social media tools, the cashtag may, in fact, send your stock tumbling down in 140 characters or less.  We recently observed such a scenario.

Shortly after market open on an otherwise average trading day, an anonymous tweet began surfacing about an FBI raid on a certain public company.  Soon the company’s trading volume began rising and its shares began
dropping, so much so that, as IR representatives for the company, Bloomberg called us to find out if the rumors on Twitter were true.  We confirmed that the rumors were false, and soon the stock corrected itself.

We later learned that the SEC opened an investigation on the tweeter for a possible “10b-5” infraction, which is when someone makes fraudulent claims in connection with the purchase or the
sale of a security.

Rumors surrounding public companies have been swirling about the Internet long before the cashtag, but this example serves as an important reminder that new information channels, carrying potentially market moving information, are reaching influential audiences at light speed.  And that means the onus will increasingly fall on investor relations professionals to ensure chirping birds are not making fraudulent claims.

 

Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Herbalife: Ackman vs. Icahn

 
As an investor relations professional, there is nothing more interesting going on now than the public drama surrounding the activist attack on Herbalife.  To remind you, Pershing Square Capital Management’s Bill Ackman conducted a highly public attack against Herbalife with a 300-plus page slide presentation, going short nearly a billion dollars. Management then countered with a three-hour long investor meeting to rebut and explain the company’s side of the story.
 
Meanwhile, activist investor Dan Loeb goes long, purchasing nearly 8% of the company.  And If the battle of activist titans could not get any more interesting, I recently listened to Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman bickering for nearly 30 minutes on CNBC, with Herabilife as a backdrop.
 
Perhaps the candid nature and public name calling took the reporter back a little, because he was reduced to a bystander, but Icahn never let on if he was long or short Herbalife – not that he would.

 

Matt Sheldon, msheldon@pondel.com

IR in Politics

 
Business folks usually don’t talk about politics, but politicians love to beat up on business.  During the debates, Romney took Obama to task on unemployment, and Obama ribbed Romney about his tax rate.  And yet, we haven’t seen any business leaders lambast the two candidates about the gobs of money they’ve spent to win the hearts of voters.
 
So far, Obama has raised approximately $934 million, versus Romney’s $881.8 million, according to the New York Times.   Between the two of them, we’re talking close to $2 billion, and that doesn’t include a whole bunch of money spent in support or against the candidates by committees, nonprofit groups and other super PACs.
 
In PondelWilkinson’s world, investors are constantly holding executives from public companies accountable for expenses and how well they can manage their income statements and balance sheets.   Votes in favor of a company’s financial performance usually result in rising shares.  The opposite is true for lackluster performance.
 
While racking up campaign expenses isn’t directly analogous to a company’s handling of SG&A, it strikes me as hypocritical when presidential candidates spend hundreds of millions of dollars to harness an asset (our country) that is ailing from the very same spendthrift ways that contribute to our nation’s growing deficit.

 

Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com