Of bubbles and bobbleheads
by Matt Worley
As the debate continues about what to do with our economic tsunami (surf it, bitches!), I am constantly surprised about how so many people seem to know exactly how to fix it. Even though, if you'd talked to them a year and a half ago, all of them would have said the economy is great and the system works.
In other words, no one really has an answer. We are kind of throwing answers at problems most people don't understand.
Debate erupted anew this week as Jon Stewart took TV financial reporters to task (specifically CNBC, mostly because they are the biggest network in this arena), and then Jim Cramer (the "screaming guy" as I used to call him) went on the Daily Show for a pantsing.
I have a bit of viewing history with both these men and the situation we've found ourselves in.
I've been watching Jon Stewart since he was on MTV, back in the early 90s. As a matter of fact, almost fifteen years ago on the day they found the body of Kurt Cobain, I tuned into MTV to watch Stewart's show and found them rerunning the Nirvana Unplugged special. I switched back to Star Trek for a while, then back again to catch the scroll explaining the change in programming.
I don't watch the Daily show daily, but I do watch clips on the Internets. On Friday, the day after the big showdown, so many people were trying to stream it, I had to wait until late in the day for it to work. And, even then, I managed to crash my browser a few times. Sometimes it's hard work to watch TV on the Internet.
Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's "Mad Money," gets props for actually going on the Daily Show. Another CNBC commentator (Rick Santelli) was called out by the show, agreed to go on, and then pulled out at the last minute. This caused the show to cull together clips of all the cheerleading CNBC was doing with the market and bank CEOs as we descended into the situation we are in now.
When I was working the market as a job (I made money, but could see it turning sour and eventually got a regular office job before it really took a downturn), I watched "Mad Money" once or twice a week. One thing that always happened was this: if Jim said buy, that stock started spiking immediately, even though the show occurred after market hours. Because of the diminished amount of buyers and sellers after the market closes, these exchanges tend to spike the cost of a stock more than during regular market hours. To his credit, Cramer always said this, "Wait a week before buying." He knew, like the rest of us, that there was an immediate change in the stock because of what he'd said. If a sustained upturn was actually going to happen, the opportunity would still be there after the immediate buy in and sell off caused by his show.
But Cramer can be rather hyperbolic about stocks, which is why I called him the "screaming guy."
There were people out there who knew this was coming. Hell, I thought something bad was coming. But I thought we'd hit a bottom thousands of points higher than the bottom has been...so far. And, for the most part, everyone thought we'd weathered a storm, and it was just a bit of wind blowing. The storm hadn't shown up yet.
Years ago I questioned people buying houses with no money down. About spending more on their credit cards than they made in a month. I've been in debt, and I don't like being in debt. And this always colors my vision, even when you describe something as an investment (like a house). Buying stocks on margin (on credit) is also investing. But I never did that either. I'd be ruined right now if I did.
I knew people who bought a house, put $10K in kitchen improvements and sold it less than a year later for about $100K more. This didn't make sense to me. Houses aren't stocks, but that's how they were being played because you could get cheap, no down payment loans for way more than anyone should have.
So here we are. And everyone's got a great plan. Republicans are positive that tax cuts for the rich are the way to go. Because that worked so well in the last eight years. Democrats are spending in tons of different ways. And hopefully some of it will work. By the way, tax cuts are spending, too.
But back to the showdown. Cramer was contrite (and in doing so, lost the "brawl"), and Stewart did what he's been doing for a while: showing that TV journalists (where most people get their news) haven't been asking questions. They've just been fawning over the rich people who got us in this mess (and straight out lied on TV about their company's situation) and keep giving themselves bonuses for being really bad at their jobs.
I missed the early morning response on CNBC to Thursday night's big show. I would assume there was a bit of defensiveness. And probably some of the people were mad because they'd wanted to bring up bad news in sunny times, but no one running the network wanted that.
My brother and I have an investing maxim: if everyone agrees on something (that the boom will never end or there is no bottom), then the market is about to turn. I'm gonna follow this until I'm proven wrong again.
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