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The day the social media illusions died on Wall Street

FILE - In this Oct. 11 2011 file phoZyngCEO Mark Pincus speaks Zyngevent San Francisco. Founded 2007 named after CEO

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2011 file photo, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus speaks at a Zynga event, in San Francisco. Founded in 2007 and named after CEO Mark Pincus’ dog, Zynga Inc. follows online deals site Groupon Inc. and professional network LinkedIn Corp. in going public. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

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roeder report

David Roeder reports on real estate at 6:22 PM. Every Thursday on News- radio 780 and 105.9 FM WBBM. The reports are repeated at 10:22 p.m. Thursday and 7:22 a.m. Sunday

Updated: July 29, 2012 12:03PM

Put it down: July 26, 2012. It was the day reality walloped investors in Internet stocks, 12 years after the whole sector first got whacked upside the head.

Lessons like this have to be repeated every few years, I suppose. Stocks cannot sustain themselves on hype, and earnings count for a lot more than growth or audience aggregation or vague ideas of how to wring money from people who use a website.

Thursday, July 26, was the day that shattered leftover illusions about the latest crop of Internet IPOs. Facebook (FB) said in its quarterly earnings report that its revenue grew at the slowest pace ever and that its operating margins fell. It was its first earnings report since a May IPO that had more glitches than a Korean rocket launch. The stock ended Friday at $23.71, its lowest close since the IPO.

It also was the day that shares of Zynga (ZNGA) lost about 40 percent of their value. The prior day, the Farmville creator slashed its earnings forecast for the year from 23 cents to 4 cents a share, spooking investors already sensitive to signs of a global slowdown. ZNGA, a $10 IPO last year, closed Friday at $3.09.

People complained that management’s revised outlook was a drastic turnaround from its prior view. But give the bosses a break. Insiders needed time to dump their shares, which they did in a secondary offering in April that allowed them to earn $516 million. They sold out at the perfect time — fancy that.

What’s next? None other than that Chicago-based bundle of joy, Groupon (GRPN), with its Enron-like accounting and management snafus, and due to report earnings Aug. 13. Its shares were caught up in the Facebook and Zynga selloffs and closed Friday at $7.59, compared with a $20-a-share introduction last November,

Not all Internet companies have shared this fate. Consider LinkedIn (LNKD) or Zillow (Z), niche websites with decent financials. Fads fade; results go to the bank.

OPTIMAL OPTIMSIM: You’ve heard of the “glass half full” outlook. In an analysis of the temporary help company Manpower (MAN), analysts at William Blair & Co. take that optimism a step further, adopting a “wishing it were half full” point of view.

Manpower shares tend to be a proxy for expectations about global growth. When companies cut back on hiring, they cut back on using Manpower’s manpower. About two-thirds of its business is conducted.

So there are a lot of red flags here, and they’re reflected in the recent share performance. Yet, a Blair team headed by Timothy McHugh clings to an “outperform” rating on the shares. “We believe that shares could move up significantly once signs emerge that the pace of declines is starting to moderate,” the analysts wrote. “We admittedly don’t see any of these signs right now … .” Damning with faint praise?

THINKING CAP: Jack Ablin, chief investment officer for Harris Private Bank, weighed in on the matter of investing in smaller-vs. larger-cap companies in his latest commentary for clients. Ablin said buying small caps is tempting because they aren’t so vulnerable to hiccups from overseas. Alas, their prices are unjustifiably high, he said.

Ablin is in the large-cap camp. “While they are more exposed to the global economy, their multinational status also offers them the unique flexibility to source and sell anywhere in the world,” he said.

PLAYING FOOD PRICES: If commodities intrigue you but you just can’t bring yourself to step into the futures markets, a couple analysts have helpful suggestions. They could be used to bet on higher grocery prices later this year, or for short-term speculation in crop futures, which remain in a drought-dominated market.

Eric Dutram of Zacks Investment Research suggested three exchange-traded funds: iPath Dow Jones-UBS Grains ETN (JJG), iPath Dow Jones-UBS Livestock ETN (COW) and E-TRACS UBS Bloomberg CMCI Food ETN (FUD). All carry the ETN title, which means exchange-traded notes. They are backed by the credit of the issuing bank, UBS in this case, but carry risk that doesn’t exist with standard ETFs.

Look hardest at COW, because its price has yet to reflect meat prices that are expected to be higher in a few months,

For rank speculation, Abraham Bailin of Morningstar offered up Teucrium Corn Fund (CORN), which deals exclusively in Chicago Board of Trade corn contracts and does not hold the crop itself.

THE BIG TIME: Chicago-based Loop Capital Markets has scored its first billion-dollar deal as lead bookrunner in a municipal bond offering. The city of Los Angeles selected the firm to manage its $1.256 billion short-term debt issuance for tax and revenue anticipation notes. The interest is just 0.26 percent, which Miguel Santana, city administrative officer, called “an outstanding outcome.”

CLOSING QUOTE: “It’s a dulling down of the colors. The socks are higher, the skirts are longer.” — Robert McTamaney, formerly of Goldman Sachs’ equities business in Asia, describing to Bloomberg News how regulatory limits have taken all the fun out of trading

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