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Taking Stock

Taking Stock

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Stock-market investors are big boys and girls, but that doesn't excuse the deception of the people who mislead them.

The state attorney general in New York is going after Merrill Lynch and other brokerage firms that mixed stock analysis with investment banking to the detriment of the former. The A.G. released some e-mails that showed analysts bluntly characterizing overblown companies as "crap."

Now they tell us.

This isn't a faraway Wall Street story for high-rollers only. It should concern everyone who has money in a mutual fund or retirement account. Chances are, there is, or was, some "crap" in your account that dragged down performance the last two years.

Of course, nobody makes fools part with their money to buy, say, Yahoo at $200 a share or Enron at $60 or Cisco Systems at $100. Investor greed is partly at fault. But the brokerage industry's defense that analysts should be absolved from all blame because investors are free agents doesn't wash. It is reminiscent of the tobacco companies' defense after its years of portraying smoking as glamorous.

One Merrill Lynch tech-stock analyst made $12 million touting companies that Merrill Lynch financed, earning fat fees. A few guilt-stricken analysts apparently finally had enough of seeing investors get screwed, and they are working with the investigators now. Good for them.

The brokerage industry and its defenders say disclosure is adequate remedy. As practitioners of the disclosure business ourselves, we know its virtues and its limitations. There is nothing like an official investigation with subpoenas to run the rogues off the street and to get to the heart of the matter.

The New York A.G.'s action is a proper follow-up to the bursting of the technology bubble. Just call it more disclosure. But instead of being in the fine print, this time it's in the headlines, where it should be.

Taking Pride

Though we have learned not to bask too much in momentary good feeling, we also know better than to repress a moment's satisfaction. And we, as local chauvinists and as sports enthusiasts, are having such a moment.

For all the sag and drag of their late season, the University of Memphis Tigers, under John Calipari, turned things around and brought home a national championship. (And let no one disparage the N.I.T.; the final is played in Madison Square Garden, isn't it?)

And despite the occasional fourth-quarter fadeout, the NBA Grizzlies provided some electric moments as well in their initial Memphis season, not to mention giving us a glimpse of a promising future in the form of phenoms Shane Battier and consensus Rookie of the Year Pau Gasol.

We would advise those still fretting over the forthcoming presence of the notorious Mike Tyson (some of this concern is well-placed, some of it is merely public piety) that we have found the silver lining. The offender is almost certain to have his tub thumped, as has happened to him previously when paired with a turned-on fighter with the same kind of height and reach advantage that champion Lennox Lewis, no slouch by anybody's standard, will have.

Face it, Memphis-bashers. Glory in it, Memphians. It's a done deal. Our city is already a big-league town.

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