Weekend Cocktail Chatter

Weekend Cocktail Chatter

Weekend Cocktail Chatter

Moneybox
Commentary about business and finance.
Dec. 3 1998 2:51 PM

Weekend Cocktail Chatter

A whiplash-inducing week on the Street, as investors came back from Thanksgiving ready to buy and sell and just generally create havoc, particularly in Internet stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which last week touched an all-time high, is down a couple hundred points below that mark, but considering all the things that are going and could go wrong in the world, there's still an awful lot of good news priced into the market. Of course, some of that good news is already here, in the form of lower oil prices, which spurred the merger of Mobil and Exxon. Now people are talking about the price of oil falling below $10 a barrel. Think of it. Soon, you'll be able to choose: For the same amount of money, I could buy a barrel of oil or go see The Waterboy. Which should I do?

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Definitely go see The Waterboy, because that's some high-quality H2O. But the fact that there's even a question is, let's face it, weird.

In any case, here is Cocktail Chatter for the weekend. The holiday party season already seems to be in full swing, so sprinkle these bon mots with care through your conversation, and you, too, can be a star for a day.

1. "Books-a-Million, the floundering, mediocre bookseller which has small, understocked stores scattered through the South, saw its stock soar last Friday on news that ... well, actually, there was no news, although the price jump had something to do with .com frenzy. This week, the stock came back to earth like Skylab. The company's name went from Books-a-Million to Books-a-Billion to Books-a-Couple-Hundred-Thousand in the space of a week."

2. "Exxon announced it will be acquiring Mobil, laying off a few thousand workers, and bringing America back to the good old days when John D. Rockefeller held the oil market in the palm of his hand. The weird thing, of course, is that Exxon was one of the most profitable corporations in America last year, and Mobil was close behind. So when the executives say this move wasn't made out of desperation, we should believe them. But doesn't that mean the Justice Department will be hard to convince?"

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3. "At the press conference announcing the merger, Exxon's CEO told a reporter who asked him about why the company hadn't disclosed its divestiture plans to the FTC that he was not interested in the reporter's views on Exxon's strategy. Why didn't he just say, 'When I want your opinion, I'll ask for it. Next!' "

4. "Boeing said that slumping Asian demand would force it to cut another 28,000 workers and could drive operating margins down near zero in the next couple of years. Yet Boeing asked employees to work on Thanksgiving to fill orders. 'So, we have too many workers, but we don't have enough to do all the work that needs to be done.' That makes sense."

5. "Many brokerage houses raised margin requirements on certain Internet stocks this week, which provoked a sell-off in those stocks and seems to have slaughtered a lot of speculators. Hey, if Long-Term Capital can have a 50-to-1 leverage ratio, why can't the guy who's just dumped his entire net worth into Onsale.com?"

6. "Alan Greenspan hasn't said anything in public for a couple of weeks now. I feel an 'irrational exuberance' speech coming on."

7. "Brazil's finance minister came out and denied rumors that a devaluation of the country's currency was in the works. That is the true definition of a Catch-22. If he doesn't deny, people say that it's because the rumor is true. If he does deny, people say that the fact that he's bothering to speak is evidence that the rumor is true. Maybe next time he should schedule a press conference and say that Brazil is going to revalue its currency upward. Then people will at least say the rumor of devaluation is false."