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Archive for Sunday, April 15, 2001

No one understands the market

April 15, 2001

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Let's take a look at your investment portfolio. In the current market, you should have most of your money in something fairly conservative, such as a coffee can buried under your house. If you want to diversify, you might consider investing in two separate coffee cans. Whatever you do, do NOT put money in the stock market.

The reason you should avoid the stock market is that to put it in technical terms nobody knows anything. This is abundantly obvious from the financial reporting on the TV news. No matter what the stock market does, the TV news always boils down to this:

TOM BROKAW: The stock market today went either down or up, and nobody on this earth knows why. For more, here's our financial expert.

FINANCIAL EXPERT: Tom, analysts attributed the movement of the market to a market movement, in which the market moves either upward or downward, depending on the direction of the market, although sometimes it holds still.

BROKAW: And is this expected to continue?

FINANCIAL EXPERT: Tom, it's too soon to tell.

In terms of solid information, we're in the same situation as members of a primitive tribe seeing their first solar eclipse. We're sitting around, pounding roots, when suddenly ... the sun is going out! We don't understand! We're scared!

Fortunately, we have witch doctors. They explain that the sun is being swallowed by a giant worm, and that they can scare it away by performing certain dance steps while waving a magic feather and wearing a hat made from the skull of a weasel. We believe them, because, hey, they must know something, right? How else could they become professional witch doctors?

It's the same with the stock market, except that instead of a giant worm, we have a recession; and instead of witch doctors, we have expert financial analysts; and instead of a weasel skull, we have Alan Greenspan. What we DON'T have is any kind of clue as to what the stock market is going to do.

That's why, for quality entertainment, you can't beat TV commercials for large investment institutions. They all have the same message, which is: "These are scary times for investors, so GIVE US YOUR MONEY! You can trust us, because we have a large building."

Sure! We can trust these institutions! We know this because 18 months ago, they all ran commercials that said: "Sell your stocks right now! The market is about to go into the toilet!"

Remember those commercials? Ha ha! Of course not. Eighteen months ago, the same institutions were running commercials that said: "Everybody is getting rich in the stock market, so GIVE US YOUR MONEY! Then go shopping for your helicopter!"

The thing is, they meant it. Eighteen months ago, the experts sincerely believed that we were in a New Economy, and the way to get rich was to invest in a new business model, a business model based on a revolutionary economic principle: stupidity.

This was the principle behind the dot-com boom, a wonderful example of which was an internet company called Boo.com. According to an article I read in The New York Times, Boo.com was conceived as an Internet site that would sell, at full price, "urban chic clothing ... that was so cool it wasn't even cool yet."

In other words, Boo.com was going to sell, with no discount, clothes that most people were not wearing! This idea was so obviously stupid that it was irresistible to the financial experts. Big investors, including the prestigious financial firm J.P. Morgan, hurled millions of dollars at Boo.com; Fortune Magazine named it one of the "Cool Companies of 1999."

Using modern, New-Economy business practices, Boo.com managed to go through $185 million in 18 months. Among the vital things it spent money on was an official cartoon mascot named Miss Boo. Fashion and hair consultants were flown from New York to London and paid thousands of dollars per day to work on Miss Boo's "look." It really paid off, too! Miss Boo is a real looker, as you'll see if you visit the Boo.com site, which is less ambitious now, and under new management, since the original company went bankrupt, along with the rest of the New Economy.

But J.P. Morgan is still here, and so is Fortune Magazine, and so are all the other financial experts, dancing around, waving their magic feathers. They no longer believe in the New Economy. I don't know what they believe in at the moment, but I'm sure they believe in it very deeply. And despite the skepticism I've expressed in this column, I believe there ARE some good investment opportunities in today's market. I myself am heavily into Maxwell House.




Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.

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