It's Good to Be Martha

Justin Hibbard

So Martha Stewart will pay a lousy $195K to settle civil insider trading charges. That will hardly put a dent in the early Christmas present that Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. (Nasdaq: MSO) will give her next month when it pays a 50 cents/share special dividend, over half of which will go straight to the company's largest shareholder, Stewart. All told, Stewart will pocket about $14.5 million from the one-time payout, which will come on top of an extraordinarily generous annual compensation package that she gets for having helped the company remain profit-free for the past three years. Mad props to my tipster for digging these figures out of the latest MSO proxy...

MSO payments to Martha Stewart in the last year:

One-time stock dividend: $14,503,173
Salary: $900,000
Guaranteed Bonus: $495,000
"The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" work: $500,000
MARTHA TV show: $200,000
Computer network and telecommunications system: $177,000
Personal transportation: $17,777
Business expenses: undisclosed
Guaranteed automobile and driver: undisclosed
"Non-accountable" expenses: $100,000
Use of properties for filming and photography: $750,000
Lawyer bills: $2,800,000

Total: $20,442,950

But that's not all...

Optional Bonus: $855,000
MARTHA reruns: 10% of adjusted gross revenues
Sister-in-law's employment: $160,000
Brother-in-law's employment: $146,000
Daughter Alexis' employment: $131,000
Sister's "editorial consulting fee": $70,000

MSO losses in the last year: $30,722,705
MSO cumulative losses in the last four years: $145,099,712

Now, the Street seems to have no problem with this goody package or with the special dividend. In fact, shares of MSO jumped 12% last Wednesday when the company announced the dividend and a second-quarter loss of $1.17 million, or 2 cents/share, which was smaller than analysts had expected. Seems investors believe the results signal a turnaround. Maybe so, but the company still expects to lose $6 million to $8 million this year and hasn't reported positive annual net income or cash flow since 2002. Investors who think they're buying a cheap turnaround story in MSO today must have iron stomachs.

I know Martha Stewart gets unfairly blamed for a lot these days. Just ask this guy. But is taking $14.5 million out of a money-losing company an effective way to win back sympathy?

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