Cocktail Chatter

Cocktail Chatter

Cocktail Chatter

Moneybox
Commentary about business and finance.
Oct. 23 1998 9:50 AM

Cocktail Chatter

Was that Jean-Luc Godard film named Weekend in French as well as in English? Or is the original title Fin de Semaine? For that matter, what's the origin of the term "cocktail party"? And what about "chat"? Is that derived from the French word for "cat" or from the Icelandic word for "fill up time with empty--that is, glorious--conversation"?

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All important questions to ponder as the fall party season gets into full swing, and we leave behind the oh-too-weighty reflections on the meaning of a "free market" which occupied so much Moneybox space this week in favor of a brisk survey of what else happened while I was trying to parse the meaning of "capitalism." It was a week of earnings, of trials, and, we hope, of at least one or two jokes. Here, then, are your weekend talking points, seven items sure to spark a conversation or at least earn you a blank stare or two.

1. "The Venezuelan government announced, in a somewhat triumphal tone, that its recent defense of its imperiled currency (the bolivar) cost short sellers a whole $105 million. Wow, $105 million. You could buy 1/2000th of GE with that."

2. "Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale debated Microsoft's lawyer over the difference between a browser and the functions of a browser. Then, asked if company co-founder Jim Clark was a 'truthful man,' Barksdale said, 'I regard him as a salesman.' Then we heard that Marc Andreessen supposedly described the browser business as 'free but not free.' Roland Barthes lives!"

3. "Dow Jones' president Ken Burenga, who presided over a disastrous period in the company's history, will be retiring at the end of the year, and the company is doing away with the office of the president entirely. Burenga says it's because the office is no longer necessary. I'm sure that's it. In fact, next, Dow Jones will do away with all hierarchy. From this point forward, everybody will just report to themselves. It'll be just like a bad NBA team."

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4. "Here's how small emerging markets are compared to Europe, Japan, and the United States. In 1997, $12 billion in foreign capital fled those markets, sending them into a tailspin. Twelve billion dollars. Conoco raised a third of that in its initial public offering on Wednesday."

4a. "Microsoft reported blowout earnings on Tuesday. Again. The stock's up seven points since Tuesday. Oh, that means Microsoft's added more money to its market cap in the last two days than fled emerging markets in 1997."

4b. "How many different ways can I find to make this point?"

5. "BankAmerica president David Coulterresigned Tuesday, committing hara-kiri after the company had to write down $372 million of a $1.4-billion loan to a hedge fund. Unfortunately, he issued no long goodbye statement. Something along the lines of 'I gladly sacrifice myself upon the altar of quantitative investing for the further glory of hedge funds everywhere' would have been quite nice, if not quite Shakespearean."

6. "Intel CEO Craig Barrett has filed to sell one-third of his shares in the company, whose stock price has rallied substantially in recent weeks. Might one not describe this as maybe not the most hopeful sign if you're an Intel investor?"

7. "Seven days in a row the Dow Jones has risen. We're less than 1000 points below an all-time high on the Dow. Greenspan must feel as good as the New York Yankees right now."