The subtle point of my recent story on Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) is that investors and analysts have for years had the ability to connect the dots to what has been going on at the company. Most, except Bill Fleckenstein -- no stranger to my columns -- just chose to ignore it.
Fleck was chatting about balance sheet issues when nobody cared. In the end, the issues being probed on Dell's balance sheet may turn out to be small potatoes and this will all go away. The company was willing to brief me off the record with background regarding the balance sheet. I told them I needed on-the record comments. After some internal deliberation, they then decided to decline comment.
(As an aside: I really don't like doing background with companies, which is offered to reporters all of the time -- and which I have agreed to from time to time depending on the situation and circumstance. But think about it: If it's something that's worth saying "for background" to a reporter-- and if it's potentially the kind of information that will clear a company's name -- shouldn't they just put it out there for all to see? But I digress...)
All anybody knows is that the Dell story, and issues involving "errors" and other miscalculations, are leading to more and longer delays in SEC filings, not less. That suggests something bigger, not smaller. In the end, maybe it will be nothing.
I've learned, however, that short of the company coming forward and explaining on the record why the critics are wrong, it's often best to put the data out there and let the saga evolve whichever way it will. Dell may re-emerge as a great growth company. On the other hand, if its business model won't have the leverage it once did -- maybe it won't.