Tag Archives: Barron’s

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Colleagues, Wall Street friends and readers remember Abelson

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Barron’s has collected a series of remembrances about Alan Abelson, its former editor and longtime columnist who died last week at the age of 87.

Here is one from Rhonda Brammer, a former Barron’s contributing editor:

The Barron’s magazine I joined in the early 1980s, back in the days of ticker tape and martini lunches, was an astonishing place—chockablock with talent: fast, graceful, savvy writers like Jim Grant, Peter Brimelow, and Kate Welling. And at the helm was the inimitable Alan Abelson, the man whose column, Up & Down Wall Street, had single-handedly transformed staid financial journalism into rare verbal art. Biting and brilliant, his columns mixed borscht-belt humor and Shakespearean allusions with zingers from Twain, Mencken, and Wilde—though Alan’s own one-liners often trumped them all.

Me? I was a kid from Idaho, then just a couple of years out of Columbia J-School. I wasn’t a very graceful writer, and I sure as heck wasn’t fast.

Still, I was summoned.

Alan had read a cover story I’d written for a small magazine called Financial World that questioned the accounting of a highflying outfit, Baldwin-United. He’d decided he wanted to hire me on the basis of that one story. When I appeared in his office for my interview, I tried to explain that he was likely making a mistake—that the story had taken me forever to write. He seemed perversely delighted, insisting that skeptical stories took time and that he’d give me time.

Which he did. Over the next 2½ decades, I was able to write about financial shenanigans of all stripes—everything from the “aggressive” accounting of a Big Board company (whose shares lost a third of their value on the first trading day after the story) to a network of stock manipulators (who drew the ire of regulators and closed up shop) to an unscrupulous health-care outfit whose fraudulent machinations imperiled the lives of its patients (and whose stock virtually disappeared).

Alan was fearless, emboldened by an astonishing intelligence, uncanny market savvy, and extraordinarily good judgment. Pure and simple, he was a genius at what he did. And when companies howled, he was there for his writers—a veritable pit bull.

Alan’s ingrained skepticism, of course, was only part of the story. He also had a great eye for undervalued companies, a keen interest in unearthing undiscovered gems for his loyal readers. He delighted in perusing the new Standard & Poor’s sheets before they were filed away in binders. He encouraged us to do our own research, to pick up the phone and talk with companies to find story ideas. His enthusiasm, I confess, was infectious—a big reason, no doubt, I later began a column called Sizing Up Small-Caps.

Read more here.

Alan Abelson

A giant in business journalism

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Howard Gold writes for Marketwatch.com about why Barron’s columnist Alan Abelson, who died last week at the age of 87, was one of the greatest business journalists of all time.

Gold writes, “In a field not known for its humor (Allan Sloan being a notable exception), Abelson’s wit was dry and sly, and he had more varieties of sarcasm than Heinz had products. I suspect his was the best prose much of his Wall Street audience read all week, and many of them read him for pleasure as much as for work.

“But he also was a great editor who shaped business journalism during its Golden Age of the 1980s. That was the time of Michael Milken, leveraged buyouts, insider trading and the stock market crash of 1987.

“During that seminal period, Abelson turned a group of hungry reporters loose on the financial statements of companies whose stocks often had no business trading where they were. Woe to them if there was a hole in their balance sheets or a questionable statement in their footnotes; Abelson and his charges would find it and publish it.

“His edgy, analytical approach to business was similar to that of Jim Michaels, born four years earlier, who produced legendary journalism at Forbes and, like Abelson, trained what became the next generation of top business journalists.”

Read more here.

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The legacy of Alan Abelson’s life

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John Kostrzewa, the business editor of the Providence Journal, writes about the biggest legacy that Barron’s columnist Alan Abelson leaves the world of financial journalism.

Kostrzewa writes, “But in reading his obituary, here’s what caught my eye. He grew up in Queens and studied chemistry and English at City College of New York before earning a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa.

“He started as a copy boy at the New York Journal American in 1949 and became a reporter on the financial desk. He served as a stock market columnist before joining Barron’s in 1956 and was named managing editor in 1965. For years, he also wrote the influential Up & Down Wall Street column.

“The point is that Abelson had a well-rounded education and learned his beat and craft in slow, steady steps over decades. That’s in contrast to many of today’s financial bloggers who have a lot to say with little knowledge and experience to back it up. Abelson got it right, got it fast and got it all. That’s his legacy and all of us can learn from it.”

Read more here.

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Why we will all miss Alan Abelson

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Brooke Southall of RIABiz.com writes about why readers of Barron’s will really miss columnist Alan Abelson, who died earlier this week.

Southall writes, “Often things happen on Fridays and his columns that appeared Saturday mornings always seemed to assimilate late-breaking reality —without the sense of last-minute appending. I often coughed up the five bucks for Barron’s just to read his column, or detoured to the Mill Valley library where the keep them neatly stacked.

“They say all humor is based on the inside joke. It helps explain why we laugh so much with our best friends. But a sage like Abelson knows enough about what you think — things that even you didn’t know you were thinking — that he can play off of that.

“In other words, Abelson, from a writer’s perspective, knew people and how we all operate — with help from the insanity of the mass psychology of crowds — a theater of the absurd every day.

“That his writing oozed with plays on that absurdity did not make him frivolous. Quite the opposite. It connected the world of business, finance, investments and the people who are behind it all. If the finance world has a lack, it’s one of human connection.”

Read more here.

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Abelson could move stock prices

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The writer who critiqued Wall Street and companies the most during the last 30 years of the 20th century was Alan Abelson of Barron’s, whose death at age 87 was announced on Thursday.

While the stock market rose to new heights for most of the 1990s, Abelson criticized the run-up on almost a weekly basis. Unfortunately, many investors ignored his rants.

For example, he wrote this about IBM investors in December 1992: “By our crude reckoning, these hapless souls have lost something over $28 billion this year, and of course, neither the year not possibly the damage is over. Contrast that to the $16 billion estimated cost of Hurricane Andrew, and the case for an official designation of IBM as a disaster area seems unanswerably compelling.”

A critical word from Abelson punctured more than one financial bubble, and cause stocks to rise with a kind word. His reputation of discovering scams and finding the truth on Wall Street is legendary. After his “Up and Down Wall Street” column lauded SEEC, which developed software to maintain computer systems, the stock rose 52 percent in one day in November 1998. And after he criticized PMT Services Inc., in consecutive issues of Barron’s in 1996, the company put out a press release to dispute his assertions in an attempt to keep the stock from falling.

It didn’t work.

Even as far back as the 1970s, Abelson drew the ire of hedge funds before their operations and tactics became commonly known on Wall Street and to the investing public. Many hedge funds short stocks, meaning they believe they will fall in price, not rise. A lawsuit brought by a Technicare Corp. shareholder accused Abelson of providing tips to these short sellers in advance of negative articles about companies.

Abelson denied the charges, which were never proven. “Back in the 1960s, people used to threaten to punch me in the nose when I said something negative about a company,” responded Abelson. “Now we live in different times. The suit is obviously an attempt to keep me quiet.”

Keeping Abelson – and other critical watchers of Wall Street – quiet has been hard for anybody to accomplish. Their reporting on the financial markets has brought to light illegal dealings, dozens of shady stock propositions and countless scam artists. Their work is respected by the scrupulous operators on Wall Street for acting as a semi-regulatory body.

With their writing, they sometimes alert federal regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission to potential transgressions. They sell newspapers and attract viewers to their media outlets. This reporting is what the quid pro quo should be for readers, viewers and listeners who often are investors.

I do not see anyone currently in business journalism who can skewer companies the way Abelson did. He will be missed.

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Abelson was one of the greatest market commentators

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Joshua Brown of The Reformed Broker writes Thursday about Barron’s columnist Alan Abelson, who has died at the age of 87.

Brown writes, “He was one of the greatest market commentators, financial writers and teachers in the history of Wall Street. There will be many eulogies for and remembrances of Alan this weekend, I am sure of it. So I’ll send you to his editor Ed Finn’s notice at Barron’s Online, but before that, below is one example (of thousands) of Mr. Abelson’s simultaneously biting and incandescent wit.

“This particular quote is from a January 2009 column of his, during the heat of the financial crisis and the socioeconomic and cultural upheaval that had brought the Democrats back to power. Here’s Abelson’s take on George W. Bush’s farewell address:

“His message was straightforward, consistent and clear: Thanks to his vigilance, this nation was spared a terrorist attack after 9/11. And so it was, for which we are all profoundly grateful. And only the most vehement Bush-basher would sniff that the real reason for the absence of an attack was that Mr. Bush did such a thorough number on the country all by himself that the terrorists figured, why bother?”

“There was more truth in Abelson’s curmudgeonly satire than you’ll find in all the research and rantings produced by the Wall Street machine that he covered so skeptically and humorously. He said what he thought and taught us all to think critically, especially when it counted – in times of wild-eyed, dangerous overconfidence.

“Rest in Peace, Alan, and thanks for being an early influence on a whippersnapper like me. You can’t imagine how much I’ve learned from your writing over the last fifteen years.”

Read more here.

Alan Abelson

Biz journalism legend Abelson has died

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Business journalism legend Alan Abelson, who worked for Barron’s for the past 57 years, has died.

Barron’s editor Ed Finn writes, “For many readers, there can be no substitute for Alan’s witty, wise and wonderfully written comments each week in Up and Down Wall Street. But Alan’s contributions to Barron’s, and to financial journalism, go beyond his marvelous column. During his career, Alan trained dozens of journalists to be skeptical, to be exacting, to help average investors, and to be on the lookout for Wall Street’s crooks. About 10 of these fine journalists still work at Barron’s, I’m happy to say. Others have gone on to do groundbreaking work at The New York Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and numerous financial newsletters.

“One of the unique things about Alan was that his keen knowledge of Wall Street was matched by his love of artful writing. Before Alan began his newspaper career in 1947, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Chemistry from The City College of New York and a master’s degree from the prestigious Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, which counts among its alumni Flannery O’Connor, Jane Smiley, and John Irving. In our view, Alan ranks among them.

“Alan arrived at Barron’s in 1956 and began writing his column in 1966.

“When Alan interviewed me for a job at Barron’s in 1993, he was 67. He had been Barron’s editor for a dozen years and its managing editor for 16 years before that. He told me he didn’t really want to manage people or edit stories anymore, but that he did enjoy writing his column. That’s when I came to Barron’s to manage and edit. Fortunately for me, for Barron’s and for our readers, Alan kept writing his column for the next 20 years, week in and week out, always with gracious prose, sharp insights and a hilarious sense of humor.”

Read more here.

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Inside the Dow Jones R&D operation

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The Economist has a brief story about the research and development operations at Dow Jones & Co., the parent of The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and Marketwatch.com.

The story reads, “The team has been in existence for under a year, but it’s already developed a few products that are soon to launch. One is a ‘digital vault’ designed to protect sensitive user-owned content and provide Dow Jones customers with a channel for sharing and discussing the content with one another. The vault will initially focus on the exchange of sensitive information between lawyers, accountants and tax advisers, among others.

“Another soon-to-debut product is built to encourage conversation between Wall Street Journal readers. This technology, which Levy describes as a hybrid between email and chatting, is meant to take engagement a step further than just commenting on a Journal article. ‘We have over 2 million people paying for the Journal. And these are highly educated, influential professionals who have a lot in common with one another,’ Levy explained. ‘Right now, we engage our readers, but we don’t necessarily encourage them to engage with one another in a long-lasting way that will build relationships and enable collaboration.’

“The products coming out of the R&D department are ultimately developed to prepare Dow Jones for an all-digital world, a key tenant of this innovation lab’s philosophy. ‘It’s my expectation that in a number of years, 100 percent of [Dow Jones] revenue will come from digital. People aren’t going to want to hold a newspaper,’ Levy said. ‘For as long as people want to hold a newspaper, we’ll give it to them, but sooner or later that will change. And by then, we’ll have a digital business model in place.’”

Read more here.

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Barron’s to critique investment journalism

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John Kimelman of Barron’s has started a new column called “Read This, Spike That” that will provide critiques of other financial media’s investment advice.

Kimelman writes, “We’ve taken note of the growing number of mostly free financial Websites that are trying to do what Barron’s has done for decades: that is, they take firm stands on the direction of specific stocks and other investments. In addition to well-known financial sites such as CNBC.com, The Street, and Forbes.com, there are a variety of up and comers with catchy names like Seeking Alpha, Wall St. Cheat Sheet and Street Authority that offer up a daily digest of stock opinions.

“Written by a combination of journalists, full- and part-time professional investors and analysts, and home-based hobbyists, the work is often well-reasoned and worth reading. But some generates more heat than light and is best avoided. Still worse, some articles have the taint of stock manipulation.

“Such an expanding body of mostly web-based financial writing deserves closer scrutiny. So today Barron’s is launching “Read This, Spike That,” a new online column that will attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff among the stock advice offered up by these publications and Websites. (To avoid any conflict-of-interest concerns, I won’t be focusing on work written by the Wall Street Journal , WSJ.com and MarketWatch, all of which are Dow Jones & Co. sister units of Barron’s.)

“Most days, I will review articles that hone in on stocks that readers tend to care about. I’ll even be employing a five-star rating system designed to remove any questions about my view on these articles.”

Read more here.

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How biz media is often a contrary indicator

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Randall Forsyth of Barron’s writes about how the media coverage of the markets is often a contrary indicator for future performance.

Forsyth writes, “‘As Worries Ebb, Small Investors Propel Markets,’ was the headline of the lead story on page one of Saturday’s New York Times. ‘Americans seem to be falling in love with stocks again,’ the Gray Lady reported.

“To which Barry Ritholtz, chief executive of Fusion IQ, observes, ‘Uh-oh,’ on his Big Picture blog. The bullish tone of the Times piece qualified as a contrary market indicator since it met his four qualifying criteria: a mainstream, non-business publication, with a front-page or cover story about a rallying asset class with a decidedly bullish tone.

“That view was confirmed by Paul Macrae Montgomery, the head of the Universal Economics advisory and the originator of the magazine-cover indicator. Years ago, he studied all the Time Magazine covers going back to the 1920s and found they were redoubtable contrary indicators. By the time Time’s editors put a market trend on the cover, it was within weeks of being played out. A bullish cover meant it was close to time to sell, and vice versa.

“Newspaper stories didn’t conform exactly to the same pattern, Montgomery noted in a phone conversation from his in Newport News, Va., office. First off, for a story to matter it had to get front-page, ‘above-the-fold’ placement, which the Times story had.

“What’s more, newspaper stories tended to signal market tops within two trading sessions, he added.

“That said, however, Montgomery professed less confidence in newspaper page-one stories than magazine covers. Moreover, markets tended to make tops in a longer, more drawn out process. Panic stories that accompany short, sharp breaks usually signal market bottoms and quick reversals, he adds.”

Read more here.