On your way to this weekend's fetes and cocktail parties, take care not to be trampled by anxious investors racing for the door. It would have been hard to come up with a better sign that the bubble economy was in full effect than this week's New York Times piece about the UPS guy who carried one of those stock-quote machines around so he could figure out whether to dump those 1000 shares of Lucent he had bought . . . three hours earlier. And the chaos in Russia seems finally to be reminding us that there is a real world out there, even if we've done a great job of forgetting about it.
Even those of us who have been deeply skeptical of this market had to feel a little queasy today. But the astonishing thing is that this market is still up for the year. And I still think it's hard to argue that the future is brighter today than it was eight months ago. In any case, this week's installment of "Cocktail Chatter" probably has a touch of gallows humor about it. But then, as that title of an Esquire collection about the 1960s had it, we may just be smiling through the apocalypse.
1. "A new (at least to me) term has now entered the political lexicon: 'softcoup,' as in 'Boris Yeltsin is on the verge of being deposed in a soft coup.' As in: 'Soft coup is not a phrase you want to hear in reference to a country with the world's second-largest nuclear arsenal.'"
2. "More than 950 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange hit new 52-week lows on Thursday. Fifteen or so stocks hit new highs. Call it a bear market and be done with it."
3. "Internet security company Cyberguard suspended its CEO and CFO earlier this week after news of possible accounting shenanigans. Suspended? Did they at least get sent to detention first, Mr. Weatherbee?"
4. "Northwest Airlines, which is doing its best to define itself as schizophrenic by raising and then cutting fares over and over again, canceled weekend flights in anticipation of a pilots' strike. Of course, Northwest controls almost all of the traffic into airports like Detroit, so this means there are essentially no flights into Detroit at all. I foresee a renaissance in store for Toledo, which will henceforth be known as the Rio de Janeiro of Ohio."
5. "George Soros' Quantum Fund dropped $2 billion in Russia over the past year but is still up nearly 20% for the year. 'How was your day at work, dear?' 'Kind of tough. We lost another six hundred million. But then we put three hundred million on a horse in the fifth at Hialeah, and ended up slightly ahead for the day.'"
6. "The time to buy is when the blood is in the streets. Cut your losses and let your winners run. It's better to be lucky than good. Everyone's smart in a bull market. If any of these pieties are helpful, please let me know immediately."
7. "Remember what J.P. Morgan said: 'The market will fluctuate.' Of course, it's much easier to remember that if you're worth billions of dollars, and much harder if you're watching that new car you had your eye on get vaporized by a rash of sell orders."