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2HRS2GO: Analysts and punditry don&#039&#039t mix

    COMMENTARY -- I can't wait for Robert Plant to start issuing "strong buy" ratings.

    Readers occasionally make the mistake of thinking that financial columnists are professional analysts. Some of them are, but many of them (including me) are not. You don't need a CFA title to be a commentator; you need writing and reporting skills.

    Sell-side financial analysis also calls on those abilities, but traditionally it has been a more sober world, closer to academia than journalism. Yet in recent years it seems like more analysts are turning into wannabe pundits.

    A few well-known names like Merrill Lynch's Henry Blodget and U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray's Ashok Kumar are fond of tossing around quips every now and then. Needham & Co.'s Tad LaFountain has written lines like "This reason sounds better than 'the dog ate my silicon' -- but just barely."

    Amusing stuff from time to time. As I've said before, it makes them quotable.

    But there's a limit to everything, and in this case, The breaking point came for me today while perusing a W.R. Hambrecht & Co. report on the the e-services industry.

    The piece started out innocently with a summary of findings from analyst Greg Gore and associates Karen Price and Yue-Shun E. Ho. They note that revenue in the e-consulting industry fell not only from dot-coms, but also traditional firms; top consultants -- Diamond Technology Partners (Nasdaq: DTPI) heads Gore's list -- will do well, the rest won't.

    Then I got to page three, and the heavy rhythms of John Bonham and John Paul Jones filled my head as I read these lines:

      "If it keeps on rainin', levee's going to break..."

    Don't mistake me for some rock-n-roll hating curmudgeon. Led Zeppelin is one of my two favorite bands, the Zoso album is one of my all-time favorite records, and "When the Levee Breaks" is my favorite song from that production. Got to love that Jimmy Page guitar break before the refrain.

    Now what the heck does it have to do with e-consulting?

    Oh, I get it. It's a review of the September quarter, which we can summarize as: Disaster.

    Flat revenue growth, lower spending by Old Economy clients, declining gross margins and balance sheet erosion added up to a Storm, in the eyes of Gore and his team. In the third quarter of calendar 2000, the levee broke for e-consulting.

    Cute.

    But is it necessary to be cute in a 28-page report detailing the problems and outlook for e-services consulting?

    It's one thing for a columnist to aim for entertainment. No one relies on me (I hope) for detailed financial analysis and stock-picking skills.

    On the other hand, readers of brokerage reports don't look for entertainment. All they expect are solid investigations of corporate performance. I'm not sure how Led Zep quotes provide illumination.

    If you must be colorful, at least avoid cliches. "Always darkest before the dawn"? I'm sure Greg Gore, an Ivy Leaguer with a degree in literature, can do better than that.

    But why even go there? Might as well have the lead singer of Led Zep belt out research reports.

    Other issues:

  • I'd think Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) CEO John Chambers was one of the biggest baloney artists around, except his company always, always, always delivers on the numbers, so it's not baloney.

    At this morning's Cisco analyst meeting, Chambers spent two hours essentially reiterating what is already known: Cisco plans to be number one or two in each of its markets; has gained market share as its competitors struggle with the industry's shift to convergence and optical networks; expects to continue thriving in both its traditional corporate field, as well as with communications service providers.

    More than most CEOs, Chambers can say nothing of substance -- he went out of his way to note that the company's financial guidance remains the same -- yet leave listeners feeling very satisfied with his company. Then again, Chambers doesn't have to say much; Cisco's consistent performance says enough. 22GO>