Wall Street is in trouble. This is your fault.
Yes, I am talking to YOU, Mr. or Ms. Small Investor. Wall Street is getting sick and tired of your namby-pamby "wait and see" attitude toward the stock market. Wall Street wants you to show some courage and resume handing your money over to Wall Street, the way you did back in the excellent 1990s, when we had a New Economy, and leading Wall Street analysts were touting all these amazing new companies that were in the exciting new business of ... OK, nobody really knew what exact business they were in, but it was NEW!
Back then, the message from Wall Street, as expressed in TV commercials for brokerage firms, was that if you gave them your money, in three or four weeks you would reap gigantic profits, then retire to a lifestyle in which the hardest work you had to do was think of names for your polo ponies.
Unfortunately, things did not work out that way. It turned out that we did not have a New Economy, and that leading Wall Street stock analysts were, to put it charitably, smoking crack. It turned out that you would have been better off, from an investment standpoint, if you had fed your retirement nest egg, a quarter at a time, into a Skee-Ball machine.
So, OK, Wall Street made a mistake. We all make mistakes! But now Wall Street is graciously willing to let bygones be bygones, and would very much like to win back your investor confidence, in the form of money. Your major brokerage firms, in an effort to show they have "turned over a new leaf," have taken the extreme step of running a new type of commercial, wherein Wall Street professionals show sincere concern for small investors by actually talking directly to them, answering their questions, stroking their hair, etc. The message of these commercials is: "You can trust us now, because we are no longer flagrantly lying to you!"
Nevertheless, you small investors remain skittish. One reason is these darned accounting scandals. I don't know about you, but I always thought of accountants as being serious, suit-wearing people whose idea of a wild and crazy night was to crack open a bottle of Snapple and recalculate their tax returns. And here it turns out that accounting is a WILD AND CRAZY profession. It is the Limp Bizkit of professions.
They are NUTS, those accountants! First, they declared that Enron was a legitimate corporation, when in fact it had basically the same business plan as a guy sticking up a 7-Eleven. And then they gave us WorldCom. Here is the first sentence of the Washington Post story on the day the scandal broke:
"WorldCom Inc. said last night it had improperly accounted for $3.8 billion in expenses and would restate its financial results for the last five quarters."
Yes! Nearly FOUR BILLION DOLLARS! This is an incredible feat of improper accounting, on a par with some of the finest work of the federal government. The WorldCom accounting department must have slaved day and night to improperly account for that much money in such a short time. I've been filing expense reports to The Miami Herald for 20 years, and I bet I haven't improperly accounted for HALF that amount.
Of course, the accountants responsible for these scandals are now in serious trouble; some may go to jail. As caring and forgiving people, we can only hope that, some day, they will be rehabilitated and find work as cashiers for Burger King ("OK, your total is $3.67, so your change is... let's see... $23 million").
But my point is that these accounting scandals made you small investors even more nervous. And THEN there was this unfortunate situation with Martha Stewart, who is in hot water (mineral, with a slice of lemon) because she allegedly may have benefited from insider trading. This a great tragedy, and although many of us may have poked fun at Martha in the past, now, seeing her in this mess, we are lying face-down on the floor in a puddle of drool five feet in diameter.
But the point is, Wall Street is in trouble, and things are not going to get better until you, the small investor, stop selfishly thinking about yourself all the time. It's time for you to show some guts and gather together whatever money you have been able to acquire since the last time you got nailed by Wall Street, and send it to Wall Street. Just do it! Wall Street needs your money NOW! That crack stuff is not cheap.
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.