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THE DAY AHEAD: Second half review

Every six months, The Day Ahead gets a check-up. Here are the key themes from the last six months ...

Men of the half-year

Amid all the columns I've written in the last six months two personalities stuck out from the pack.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is one of the co-men of the half-year.

For sheer entertainment value, Ellison is among the best CEOs to watch. He's flamboyant and prone to exaggeration, but his company delivers the quarterly results. I wondered whether Oracle was becoming Ellison Inc. as key execs split.

Those worries may be premature. As one of our readers noted, Ellison has been at Oracle the whole time and the stock performance has been spectacular.

The other man of the half-year has to be Lehman Brothers bond analyst Ravi Suria. He whacked Amazon in June with a brutally honest report that picked apart the numbers. He followed up a few months later with an equally scathing report. Suria turned the sentiment around for equity analysts. Lehman Internet analyst Holly Becker became queen of the dot-com bears after Suria's report. Gee, I wonder where she got that idea?

Suria's research, however, isn't limited to Amazon, which is an investor relations nightmare. He issued a great report on telecommunications credit woes months before the telco tailspin.

Dot-com implosion

In the last six months a lot of my dot-com questions were answered by the market. In July, I wondered whether the price was right for Priceline shares. I got my answer a few months later as this alleged bargain stock plunged amid the Webhouse debacle and profit warnings.

As for RealNetworks, I wondered if these online ad worries could really hurt the company. Yup. Shares plunged on the company's profit warning a week ago.

Fortunately I got a few right. I told you NetZero has no story -- and it still doesn't. I warned against those e-tailing bargains like eToys, which just imploded. And those dot-com dominoes fell in place just as I projected.

And let's all cheer for those Internet CEOs who bailed just before the market exploded. Nice timing.

Online ads

The flame-o-meter was going crazy in July when I noted that Yahoo ducked the online ad worries on its conference call. In October, folks were resigned to a slowdown for Yahoo, but remained upbeat.

What a difference a bear market makes. Now, you'd think Yahoo was going out of business. Get a grip, people. Ditto for DoubleClick. This company is a long-term survivor.

The analyst game

Part of my job is to ferret out the analyst BS that flies past me every day. Aside from flames about Transmeta's future, I still don't see those cheery analysts pounding the table for the stock. Why go out on a limb? Transmeta's underwriters have done their jobs -- they've collected the fees and sold you on the story.

But it's much more newsworthy to point out the good things analysts do. Too many hide behind convoluted ratings systems and follow the herd.

For all the ribbing about Goldman Sachs analyst Rick Sherlund and his pain about cutting Microsoft estimates, he was on target. Microsoft warned just a few days after Sherlund's call.

And those analysts sneaking around gauging PC sales also turned out to be right.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention USB Piper Jaffray analyst Ashok Kumar for entertainment value. Kumar was on target about Intel, but still has that Brocade blind spot.

Bear market brigade

Like many of you, I've tried to cope with the bear market and have struggled to find a bright side, especially since it's hip to be bear.

In my twisted quest for daily column fodder, I've basically concluded that the bright side is that things can't get too much worse. Right?

Stumblin' and bumblin'

We've documented more than our share of fallen heroes. AT&T is in a tailspin and reaching big time for shareholder value. It sold us on broadband dreams, but now plans to break up. And to no one's surprise it just issued another profit warning.

Its offspring, Lucent, is a mess too. Lucent has lost Wall Street's confidence, but could be on the turnaround path following its latest warning. After all, it can't get worse. Or can it?

And then there's Apple. In September, I wondered if Apple's fairy tale was over. Yup. Wall Street balked at the company's request for patience and followed up with another profit warning amid sluggish sales. TDAIN

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