Notes from a Fool
The Week in Review -- July 10, 1998
by Jerry Thomas ([email protected])
"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow Creeps in this petty pace from day to day... And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death."
--Macbeth, Act V, Scene v
Cyberspace is unstoppable. Surely that much is clear to all of us by now. The Internet, after all, was designed to survive a nuclear attack, and it will certainly be able to withstand the trading volatility that greeted the equities of those firms that are pioneering the cyberspace frontier this week. We do not know what the Internet will look like twenty years from today, but we all can be sure that this so-far undiscovered country will be with us, and omnipresent -- on our desktops and wrist watches, inside our Palm Pilots and glowing softly from the dashboards of our automobiles. Its uses and possibilities, yes, are only dimly apparent to us today, but the change is inevitable, it is coming, have no doubt of that.
We call ourselves Fools because it liberates us. It frees us to do things that many consider ill-advised. One such mad habit is that we dare to look at the long term -- a notion that may not seem outrageous until people notice that it sometimes makes us behave in ways that ignore and even insult the facts that are manifesting in this present moment. The famous passage from Macbeth quoted above continues: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more." Indeed, this week we witnessed a great deal of the strutting and fretting that is all too characteristic of the human species, much of it focusing on the seeming overvaluation of companies that have a stake in the communications revolution that is the Internet. In Fooldom, the sound and fury, as is customary, centered on the Fool Portfolio's position in Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN).
Is Amazon overvalued? Quite possibly. Dale Wettlaufer (TMF Ralegh) posed that very question in Monday's very timely Lunchtime News. One could easily make a case that the markets have been far too generous to this company, especially at that brief moment when it hit its recent 52-week high, at $143 3/4, and especially now that it is trading so much lower than that figure today. But what of those possibilities that await us in cyberspace? Does that potential not merit some display of deference, especially considering that such accommodation can be made so lightly, given the rewards that ownership of this company has already granted?
I don't pretend to have the answer to that question, but it comes under close examination this week, and from some of the best minds in Fooldom. Dale revisited the question of Amazon's valuation in Wednesday's Lunchtime News, and Louis Corrigan (TMF Seymor) offered his own very perceptive consideration in the same day's Evening News. Jeff Fischer (TMF Jeff) gave his examination of Amazon in two thoughtful parts, in Monday's Fool Portfolio column, and again on Wednesday, which includes a study of that other cyberspace powerhouse, America Online (NYSE: AOL). You can join the discussion yourself on our Amazon.com message board.
The Foolish long view. We are sometimes at odds with ourselves trying to achieve that perspective. Cyberspace is a medium with a mesmerizing reality, a palpable aura of immediacy. The things that are happening here are happening right now, and we as investors are doubly susceptible to its siren charms. That stock ticker is dangerously compelling, and it flits from moment to moment, calculating the grand fluctuations, the flows and eddies of the world's capital, shifting from one position to the next, a giant lava lamp gripping our fixated minds. The danger is that we might become trapped on that treadmill, or that we become Shakespeare's poor player, unable to pull away from the meaninglessness of the passing of time, as tomorrow creeps into today, and on into yesterday.
Even Amazon.com provides an illustration of this point. The number one title on its current Business Bestsellers List is something called The Electronic Day Trader. I do not want to judge the volume too harshly as I have not seen it, and I presume that despite its title it is not a horror story. Still, I wonder what the attraction of day trading might be, considering that the rewards of simple buy and hold investing come so profoundly, and with so much less frenzy.
Our own readers bring us back from the brink. Consider Wednesday's Fribble, by Fool Jeb Sturmer, which in a tender way shows how easily a young person can learn the value of patient, long-term investing. Or Thursday's Fool Portfolio Recap, in which guest writer Jonathan Smith recounts the true story of how a working man's simple investment foresight created a priceless gift for his family two generations hence. Our bias toward the long term is also apparent in our new area that helps parents plan for their children's college education. These patient rewards are in a very real sense a salvation. The long-term perspective puts the new tools of cyberspace to work in ways that can enhance our lives rather than confuse them.
I'm almost out of space, and there is still so much left to tell. I guess this is proof that cyberspace is not quite as boundless as I have imagined. Still, there is plenty of thoughtful Fool Features to keep your mind occupied all weekend long. Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible) takes us on a stroll down the strange paths of some IPOs. A lively Duel ensues as Fools Dale Wettlaufer and Paul Larson (TMF Parlay) cross swords over Philip Morris (NYSE: MO). On StockTalk, Yi-Hsin Chang (TMF Puck) and Brian Graney (TMF Panic) interview Infoseek (Nasdaq: SEEK) CEO Harry Motro -- available in RealAudio and as a transcript.
Be good to yourselves this weekend, Fools.
Until next week,