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Sony soars, sinks, soars on Apple buyout rumor

The power of wishful thinking

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Just how volatile are the stock markets these days? How about this metric: Sony's stock shot up by 3 per cent on Monday on a totally unsubstantiated rumor that Apple was eyeing it as a takeover target.

Sony stock then slipped back when the source of the rumor noted that he simply made it up. Then, unaccountably, Sony took off again, and as of 1:15pm Eastern time on Tuesday, it was selling at a far higher price than it was pre-rumor.

Perhaps Tuesday's traders didn't get the memo debunking the rumor. Or perhaps they know something others don't. Or perhaps, well, whatever.

Such is the power of wishful thinking. Or, more specifically, the power of traders wishing that Apple would throw some of its $51bn in cash their way.

The moneyman madness began over the weekend, when Barron's blogger Eric Savitz reminded his readers that during a conference call with reporters and analysts announcing Apple's financial results for its fourth fiscal quarter, CEO Steve Jobs had mused: "We would like to continue to keep our powder dry, because we do feel that there are one or more strategic opportunities in the future."

Savitz then added his own musing, saying: "That brief comment has triggered speculation on just what Apple might want to buy. Adobe? Sony? Or how about a big media company where Jobs is already on the board: Disney?"

That was enough for the moneymen, who fluffed Sony by the aforementioned 3 per cent.

On Tuesday, Savitz noted a Reuters article about the Sony surge that cited his Barron's blog post as "helping to spark the speculation" of an Apple acquisition of Sony.

One wee problem: Savitz had made the whole thing up. "The source of the rumor seems to be...hmmm...my own column in Barron's over the weekend," he wrote.

"In the piece I noted that the company could do something aggressive, like bidding for Adobe, Sony or even Disney," he wrote. "But that was pure speculation. Yeesh."

If you ever feel that the investing class is filled with top-notch minds carefully analyzing reams of data to precisely predict market swings and cycles, just remember that Savitz's speculative comments included the conjecture that Apple might acquire Adobe.

As that hoary 90s catchword would put it: "Not!"

The suggestion that Flash-hating Jobs would buy professional apps–publisher Adobe while he's busily moving Apple further away from the pro market and deeper into consumer electronics should have been a red flag to the moneymen that perhaps Savitz was out of his depth.

That's how we see it — but we're honest enough to admit that when it comes to divining the mind of Jobs and predicting exactly what he'll do with his $51bn stash, we're all in the dark.

But we will be audacious enough to float one prediction: if you're an Apple stockholder waiting for Jobs to dip into that $51bn and toss some of it your way in the form of dividends, well, to use another hoary catchword: fuggedaboutit. ®

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