Friday, February 29, 2008

CNBC's Monotone on the Monolines

By Marek Fuchs,

Perhaps I was asleep at the switch, or daydreaming about a business media that did not portray every last CEO as a cross between Midas and Winston Churchill and every last GDP revision as a revelation, but I missed Thursday's rendition of what I'll call the "Charlie Chronicles."

Of course, there is the slim chance that it actually did not happen yesterday. That -- be still my beating heart -- CNBC's Charlie Gasparino did not take to the air at the appointed 3:30 p.m. EDT to declare an impending deal to bail out AmbacABK, everyone's favorite failing bond insurer.

Breaking news? Broken record news might be more like it.

I half expect Charlie to interrupt this Business Press Maven report with more news of an impending deal, oops here it is:

Intoned Charlie at 7:42 a.m. this very morning:

"The bailout of troubled bond insurer Ambac has hit a significant snag, after rating agencies demanded more capital from the consortium of banks involved in the bailout effort, CNBC has learned.

People close to the deal are confident that it will still happen, because the banks and the rating agencies are aware that, if it collapses, there will be a huge decline in the stock market."

So apparently, the rescue deal (whichever one we are talking about now) hit snags. But guess what? It might still happen, so let's revisit just how often he's oversold this story.

I'll have to move quickly before his next report, but where to start? The options are voluminous. We can either go through his reports chronologically and get bogged down halfway through, crushed under the weight of it all. Or we can hit some high (uh, low) lights. Do remember that the number of reports here sets a new standard. We were once highly critical of a Barron's columnist for (re)writing three major bull calls on MicrosoftMSFT returning to growth stock status, without mentioning his repetitive track record in the third report.

But Good Time Charlie makes Barron's look like a piker. Of course, Charlie might be right eventually. It's entirely possible that sometime between now and the end of time, we might get a bailout. But, and we had the same issue with Barron's, how long do you sell the same story before you need to inform investors right up top: "I've been a broken record on this one." And the following record shows just how many skips this one has.

This dispatch from Charlie on Feb. 22 had deja vu written all over it:

"Bankers working on the deal to bail out troubled bond insurer Ambac say progress is being made on a recapitalization plan that could save the bond insurer's triple-A rating. The consortium of banks, which includes Citigroup and Wachovia could announce the deal as early as Monday or Tuesday. Although the structure of the deal is still uncertain, sources indicated the deal could include both equity infusions and lines of credit."

As best as I can tell (and I had to wade through a lot of material), Charlie might have started talking about a "possible bailout" at the end of January. By Feb. 4, we were treated to a dispatch about how "new details are emerging about a possible bank bailout of insurer Ambac."

And we sat through maybe about a dozen more reports, from a "plan in the works" on Feb. 5 to "a new development in the possible bailout" on Feb. 8. "A New Plan From an Unlikely Source," was a headline from Feb. 20, a "big weekend" on the 25th, the same day that stocks were popping on "news of an impending cash injection."

On Feb. 27 we were treated to "Latest on the Ambac Bailout," which included news that New York State and sovereign wealth funds "may be involved." Also that day, we had a report that included a scroll item that MBIA'sMBI CEO had the goal of restoring his company's obscene market value. Now that's a plan! I guess, considering, it's as good as any.

On the 28th day, he rested, to the best of my knowledge, but as noted above, Charlie got right back on the horse this morning.

I'll just end it here, though there is a lot more out there, because I hate to pile on Charlie's pile-on.

So dear readers, beware. And be aware. That way you can judge for yourself whether ol' Charlie is right on the bailout, which would have implications for MBIA among others, or is maybe possibly being played like a fiddle by some longs, or is just overreaching for a scoop.

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