It has been noted by many financial pundits that the modern-day sign that a booming market is back is the reappearance of CNBC in bars, restaurants, locker rooms, and waiting rooms around the country. Not too long ago, people didn't even want to be reminded of the existence of the market with the arrival their monthly brokerage statements. Now, we're back to reading the ticker crawl like we're waiting for the results of the fifth race at Aqueduct.
I don't think this is a good thing. Certainly, it's great that people are interested, but business and markets do not generally make good subjects for up-to-the-second, continuous reporting. Unlike a horse race -- with a self-contained beginning, middle, and end -- what happens in the immediate has the impact of obscuring what actually matters in investing. An appearance on Squawk Box by the CEO of some company is treated by many speculators as a reason to buy its stock. It's very difficult for the media to cover something without changing its very nature; it is impossible for it to do so when it covers the same topic 24 hours a day.
We've seen it happen with headline news. Stories once received their just due, but now we get breathless coverage of garbage that doesn't matter a whole heck of a lot. I mean, who really thinks the minute-by minute coverage of the Michael Jackson trial is a net positive for society? "He! Is! Dancing! On! The! Roof! Of ! His! SUV!"
We've seen it in sports. Does a play matter if it doesn't show up on Sports Center? No wonder college basketball players have seen their free-throw percentages drop in the last decade -- like that ever shows up on the highlights! But that half-helicopter-full-monty-in-yer-face-monster-jam? Yeah, been working on that for years. That'll be in there.
Is it any wonder that we'd see it in business news? Now that the investing public has become interested in stocks once again (and just in time, too), wherever you go, CNBC or Bloomberg is on. They have the full day to fill up, and the night, and they do so with up-to-the-minute coverage of "what's going on."
But is the stuff being reported generally all that important to investors?
Certainly, big stories come down the pike, and they need to be covered. For example, you wouldn't want news of the Microsoft
Because you really cannot have all three. It is the rare analyst who can look at a story and build out a nuanced analysis of what happened and why it matters within, say, half an hour.
You want it right, or right now?
But that's the time in which writers need to respond to big stories. On March 4, Intel
Was that helpful? How about this quote from fund manager Matt Kelmon, which was included in a March 4 story that ran on TheStreet.com
Do you want to know why such balderdash gets into print? Because the folks who are charged to write this stuff don't have time to analyze. Better to just report the simplest facts "Earnings of X, up from Y," and then ask an analyst to fill in the blanks. Fast is more important than good, as the dozens of stories that come out within minutes of a Cisco Systems
Market commentary = make stuff up
It all comes back to the influence of the Internet, and the 24-hour news feed from CNBC and the like. You have to fill all that space with something, regardless of its relevance, and you'd better make it seem important. So people basically make stuff up and pretend it matters. That's how you come up with "investors got worried about the situation in East Timor, but then started taking profits in the afternoon in advance of the PPI number that comes out next week." Keep in mind that on a daily basis, 99% of shares do not trade. If things are so bad, should we just assume that these folks are brain dead not to react?
But those who were unmoved to act are irrelevant -- much more important to focus on that marginal 1%. So we are treated with an interpretation of what millions of investors did, and why. It's important to keep in mind that whatever these motivations are, even if they exist, they won't mean a darn thing even 24 hours later. So today the story is that "stocks fall on security fears." It just doesn't even make sense. "Security fears" don't keep Oracle
My question is whether such an opinion even gets published in an environment where there isn't so much network and Internet reportage needing to talk about something, and fast.
I tend to think of most coverage of the markets in a triangular fashion. On each side of the triangle you have a characteristic of a story. One side is "fast," one is "analytical," and the third is "thorough." With few exceptions, you can count on no more than two of these characteristics in any given news article. A fast story cannot be both thorough and analytical. A through, analytical story will not come out 45 minutes after the event takes place. So when you are consuming news, keep this in mind, and make sure to choose.
As it is, too many people seem to elect for "fast" at the expense of one or both of the other characteristics of a good piece of coverage. I know that's not the element that I generally value the most, and I think that, in the financial world, such rapidity obscures what is most important in making good investment decisions. "Beating by a penny" ain't it.
Bill Mann, TMFOtter on the Fool Discussion Boards
Bill Mann thinks that CNBC would be much more interesting if they routinely staged duels. Then again, so would most things. He holds none of the companies mentioned in this story. You may view a complete list of his holdings in his profile . Interested in dividend-paying stocks? Check out the opportunities Mathew Emmert has dug up this month in Motley Fool Income Investor. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.