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Henry Blodget, big pal of the little investor

Henry Blodget, big pal of the little investor

Wall Street can be a hazardous place for the trusting individual investor.
There are financial advisers who push overpriced products. There are stockbrokers who put you in mediocre high-commission mutual funds. And there are stock market analysts who tell you to buy a stock when they're guffawing in private that it's the biggest loser since the pre-2004 Red Sox.
So who better to help navigate the perils of finance than a guy who got banished from the brokerage industry for hoodwinking the public? Henry Blodget, the Internet analyst who was kicked out of the securities business in 2003, has a new personal finance book - "The Wall Street Self-Defense Manual: A Consumer's Guide to Intelligent Investing".Think of it as catching the thug who mugged you and hiring him to teach you karate.
In an e-mail response to questions, Blodget said, "I wrote the book knowing it would have to stand on its own merits, and I am confident that it does."
The new book is the latest in a multiphase comeback for Blodget, who, though banned from Wall Street and socked with a US$4 million civil fine, inspires tolerance and adulation from some of his fans.
Consider this posting from Blodget's Internetoutsider.com Web site: "You are a hero," wrote "Contrahour," just after Blodget began his blog in October 2005.
'King Henry'
Another gem comes from the editor of stocksandbombs/typepad.com, who on Jan. 17 posted "I used to despise Henry Blodget" who was "a viscous (sic) trickle of vile scum dribbling from the nose of a Wall Street bull." Today, though, all is forgiven, the one-time detractor says. "Henry is a changed man."
Could somebody find out what these people are smoking?
Henry aka "King Henry" Blodget, became an overnight Wall Street phenom in 1998 when he predicted that Amazon.com Inc., then at US$242, would hit US$400 a share within 12 months. The stock did just that - within three weeks - and Blodget became guru of the hour.
After that, Merrill Lynch & Co. snatched him away from Oppenheimer & Co., paid him US$5 million in 1999, and trotted him around the country to wow big investors and potential underwriting clients. He did 80 TV appearances in 1999, according to "Blood on the Street," (Free Press, 355 pages, US$26) a chronicle of Wall Street's Internet icons of the 1990s. Little did Blodget realize that the snickering e-mails he was shooting off to his pals would wind up in the hands of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
In case you have forgotten:
E-mail of June 3, 2000: "ATHM (At Home Excite) is such a piece of crap!" On the same day, Blodget's group issued an "accumulate/buy" rating.
E-mail of December 4, 2000, referring to Lifeminders Inc. (LFMN): "I can't believe what a POS (you can figure it out) that thing is." Seventeen days later, Blodget's group reiterated its "accumulate/buy" rating on the company's shares.
It wouldn't be so bad if we could write off the disconnect between Blodget's personal views and his public hype to a noisy Wall Street tout mouthing off to pros who knew better than to act on the recommendations.
But Merrill is the brokerage house of the little guy, and Blodget was the firm's mouthpiece, making the rounds with the press at a frenzied pace. Merrill brokers, in the meantime, hit the phones telling mom and pop that the King was still bullish on Internet stocks. When Blodget's picks crashed, some of those moms and pops called their lawyers: We bought because Blodget told us to, they said.
Even after the damning e-mails helped bounce Blodget from the securities business, he landed on his feet, first penning a column about the Martha Stewart trial for Slate (the Web site still uses him as a columnist), then moving on to articles everywhere from the New York Times to the Guardian in the U.K. He is back on TV, including Bloomberg television, and he again is being quoted in print as an expert on tech stocks.
Apart from his Internetoutsider blog, he also runs New York-based Cherry Hill Research, which he calls "an industry analysis and consulting firm." And now, the book. It actually gives good, though hardly novel, advice: Put your money in index funds; avoid transaction, tax, and inflation costs; and diversify. He also says "Whatever you do, don't make an investment decision just because a particular analyst or 'guru' recommends it." Thank you, Mr. Blodget, why didn't you tell us that eight years ago?
Another chance
The amazing thing is not so much that he's back critiquing the plusses and minuses of public Internet companies. The shocker is that so many people seem not to care.
Shouldn't he get a second chance?
It depends on whether you think he's a guy who stumbled into a conflict-ridden world or if he was an active part of the program. On the day he initiated coverage of Goto.com with a "neutral-buy" rating, an institutional client sent an e-mail to Blodget asking "What's so interesting about Goto except banking fees????"
"Nothin," he answered.
Still, fans love him.
"He wasn't caught with either a live boy or a dead girl, so he's got promise," wrote a reader of Blodget's blog. In other words, what's not to like?
Susan Antilla is a columnist for Bloomberg News.


Updated : 2021-06-19 03:12 GMT+08:00