<THE FOOLISH FOUR>
by Jerry Thomas
SHERMAN OAKS, CA. (August 5, 1998) -- I finally quit stalling and got cable TV installed in my apartment last week. I've been a long holdout -- I gather I'm the last person in America to get that wire hooked into his home. But dammit, I missed the whole Beavis and Butthead craze, and I'll be dipped in goo if I'm gonna miss out on South Park, too.
So now I'm dealing with the two great consequences of joining the cable world: first, insomnia. (Does everyone with cable television stay up every night until 4 AM?) And second, CNBC.
As I type this, I'm watching a fellow on CNBC reporting live from the New York Stock Exchange trading floor. He seems to have chosen a poor spot from which to make his remarks -- he's in the middle of a high traffic area, and he keeps getting elbowed by people trying to file past him. It looks dangerous, because if we really do have one of those market stampedes that everyone keeps talking about, this guy's had it.
So why is he standing there? CNBC could, presumably, set up their cameras just about anywhere. Do the numbers get any more interesting because he's closer to ground zero? Or is this something like what you see on the helicopter-chase-and-chalk-outline news programs you see on local TV every night at 6 and 11? In other words, is it a question of "let's not worry about what information is being reported as long as there's a burning building in the background when you say it?"
I don't know. I will say this, though -- it certainly is a theatrical setting, and does much to heighten the melodrama that comes with the sorts of wild price swings we've seen in the last couple of days. They call it Sturm und Drang, and it helps liven the performance despite the fact that in a short time these late trading sessions will have no significance except to obsessive chartists and market historians. Bottom line: if the guy is going to spend that much time on the trading floor, somebody ought to hand him a broom. The place could use some sweeping.
By far, the most interesting thing to watch on CNBC is Sue Herera's hair. You can click here to go to the CNBC website and see what I'm talking about, but the picture I've linked doesn't do justice to Sue's 'do. She has a mammoth shock of hair that swoops over the top of her head straight out over her right shoulder, where it hangs in mid air, poised there, floating, hovering, defying gravity, a frozen avalanche, a levitating blonde divot. It is unnerving to watch it. If the usual laws of physics were at work, it would collapse at once in front of her face. But there it hangs, suspended. And thus it becomes a metaphor for the market.
What is holding this thing up? When is it going to drop? It's all going to crash eventually, isn't it? Sue, at least, can resort to anti-gravity bobby pins, or steel-belted hair spray -- but the market, all that keeps that from falling to pieces is the grace of God and Ralph Acampora. Isn't this stock market too risky, too dangerous for the small investor to mess around with?
Fortunately, in Fooldom, we take considerable comfort in knowing that despite the gyrations of the last couple of days, America is in a bull market and has been for the last couple of centuries. When properly aware of the risks, and when taking a sufficiently long-term view of the potentials available, investors need not concern themselves with the white noise of short-term trading. Plus, when you're online, nobody has to know how bad your hair looks.
[Robert Sheard is on vacation this week, the lucky duck. He will return on August 10. Which begs the question, how come Cheeze never gets a vacation? I'm a good person, right? I work my poor modem to the bone, and what does it get me? A big fat nothing, that's what.]
[Robert Sheard is the author of the The Unemotional Investor (Simon & Schuster, 1998) available now at Amazon.com and your local bookseller.]
Stock Change Last -------------------- UK + 11/16 47.56 IP - 1/8 43.00 MO + 13/16 43.25 EK + 3/16 81.25
Day Month Year FOOL-4 +0.77% -2.27% 11.39% DJIA +0.70% -3.79% 8.07% S&P 500 +0.87% -3.50% 11.44% NASDAQ +0.13% -4.51% 13.86% Rec'd # Security In At Now Change 12/31/97 206 Eastman Ko 60.56 81.25 34.16% 12/31/97 291 Union Carb 42.94 47.56 10.77% 12/31/97 289 Int'l Pape 43.13 43.00 -0.29% 12/31/97 276 Philip Mor 45.25 43.25 -4.42% Rec'd # Security In At Value Change 12/31/97 206 Eastman Ko 12475.88 16737.50 $4261.63 12/31/97 291 Union Carb 12494.81 13840.69 $1345.88 12/31/97 289 Int'l Pape 12463.13 12427.00 -$36.13 12/31/97 276 Philip Mor 12489.00 11937.00 -$552.00 CASH $754.73 TOTAL $55696.92