Foolishness demands that we don't overreact to short-term news. Still, it often pays to watch the headlines; they can reveal what's not so wise about the wisdom of crowds, and help us figure out where our next opportunity may be. Here are three of the reasons to freak out that I'm watching today:
1. Google obeys the law of financial physics
In a rare Wall Street disappointment yesterday, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) managed to actually miss earnings estimates by a few pennies a share, producing a measly $6.45 instead of the $6.52 to which Mr. Market felt entitled. Sadly, even Google can't grow at better than 25% all the time. It's already giant. And it's only got one line of business, which it already dominates.
The problem is, of course, Google's inability to diversify. While the press constantly throws the word "innovation" at the company, there's honestly nothing all that innovative -- or bottom-line-building -- about buying small, bolt-on Internet services and putting your name on them; giving out free phone operating systems (also bought, not developed); or letting Interneters use free versions of office productivity programs with 15-year-old functionality.
Despite a lot of hiring (enough to worry analysts), it's also falling behind in some places it used to lead. See Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Bing maps and search, from which Google has started to crib ideas lately. For now, Google is the world's powerful advertising broker, and nothing more for now. Some shareholders are sure to freak out when they comprehend the obvious.
2. Goldman must obey the rules of fair financial dealings ... whatever those are
Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) will pay a huge (but not record) fine for duping investors in a Frankenstein's-monster mortgage-securities derivative custom-built for billionaire hedge-fund client John Paulson to short.
Under fire from the SEC and in court, the firm finally coughed up $550 million and acknowledged its "mistake" -- namely, claiming in its marketing materials that its synthetic mortgage bond was created independently by a third-party Dr. Frankenstein. In fact, Paulson, who made billions shorting the housing bubble, was giving direct input on the bond's contents, thereby increasing the odds that he'd score when the thing went bonkers and tore up those who took the long side.
After swearing up and down that Goldman had done nothing wrong -- how could it, since he previously swore that the company does "God's Work"? -- CEO Loyd Blankfein managed to keep his job, and the firm didn't have to admit any wrongdoing, as is usual on these occasions. I think the only reason Goldman caved and paid up was because it needs a steady supply of villagers to feed its stitched-together creatures. It's hard to sign them up if stories of their financial dismemberment keep gracing the front pages of the newspapers.
3. The unintended consequences start now
Everyone sensible agrees that we need some kind of regulatory overhaul to interrupt the current status quo. Right now, firms like Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) and Citigroup (NYSE: C ) privatize profits based on horrible decision-making, then benefit from trillions of dollars in taxpayer-backed loans and indirect monetary stimulus when their horrible decisions come back to wreck the economy. Unfortunately, sensible people aren't in charge of making the changes. Politicians are.
Much of the newly passed financial reform bill looks great in concept: disallowing banks from making gambles with their own money; tighter restrictions on derivatives which formed the shadow banking industry; and a consumer finance watchdog charged with making sure burger-flippers making $13,000 don't sign up for $300,000 mortgages. But according to the Wall Street Journal, there are now 10 agencies charged with translating more than 2,000 pages of outline into even more pages of specific rules, and they'll be getting heat from well-heeled financial-industry lobbyists the entire way. I guarantee there are 30 to 300 more reasons to freak out as a result of this bill. We just won't see them for years ... until the next crisis reveals them.