Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI
Fox News has fired paid contributor and market analyst Tobin Smith for receiving compensation to promote the stock of Petrosonic Energy, a violation of network policy. According to a Media Matters review, Smith's company, NBT Equities Research, also received compensation for promoting numerous other companies through his website and conservative newsletters, and used his Fox News credentials to hawk volatile stocks to conservatives.
MarketWatch's Chuck Jaffe reported that Smith issued "sponsored investment research" to tout Petrosonic's stock in a 20-page mailer, for which NBT received $50,000. The paid endorsement is against Fox's policy that "no contributor to FBN [Fox Business Network], nor his/her firm, and/or family members are allowed to accept financial consideration of any kind whatsoever to issue research, advertisements, or to otherwise promote individual stocks or securities." In a post today on his website, Smith acknowledged that he is "no longer a Fox contributor" but defended his "business of sponsored research for uncovered emerging growth companies." He also wrote: "For the record, my last contributor agreement with Fox News did NOT include any exclusion from me or my company sponsored research. But that is water under the bridge."
MarketWatch -- which, like Fox News, is owned by News Corp. -- noted that companies hire people like Smith for sponsored research "to help small stocks find a market using fluff-and-shine hyperbolic chatter" at novice investors.
Smith's company produces voluminous quantities of sponsored content. In June alone, NBT's website has featured posts by Smith with compensation disclaimers for GlyEco ("200,000 options of GlyEco"), Petrosonic ("$50,000"), Brazil Minerals ($40,000), Barfresh Food Group ("$35,000 and 75,000 restricted shares"), and Pulse Beverage ("$50,000").
Smith also regularly pitches paid stock promotions to conservatives through right-wing email newsletters. Media Matters identified at least six recent instances in which Smith's NBT Group was compensated to promote a company's stock via Townhall.com newsletters. The companies include Medient Studios in 2013 ("225,000 shares"); BOLDFACE Group in 2013 ($50,000); IceWeb in 2012 ($50,000 via a third-party firm); Plandai Biotechnology in 2012 ("$30,000 monthly and 1.4 million shares for a one year"); Replicel Life Sciences in 2012 ("a fee of over $1000.00 in cash"); and Petrosonic in 2012 and 2013 ($50,000).
Since mid-December 2012, Smith has sent compensated Petrosonic advertisements to subscribers of email lists for Townhall.com, National Review, Dick Morris Reports, and CainTV, which is run by Fox News contributor Herman Cain.
MarketWatch wrote that Smith's Petrosonic advertising pitches ignored several problems with the company's finances, including its lack of revenues, "Petrosonic's rising losses, negative cash-flow and the 'going-concern letter' from auditors who think there is 'substantial doubt' in Petrosonic's ability to survive."
Other stocks that Smith promoted to conservative newsletter subscribers paint a similarly rosy picture of volatile companies with low share prices. At least two stocks are now virtually worthless: BOLDFACE Group closed yesterday at $.06 and IceWeb closed at $.02. Two other companies, Plandai Biotechnology and Replicel, are both trading at between approximately $.50 and $.65. And Medient Studios is trading at near $1 a share.