The big news this week actually happened last week, when the number of jobs created in the month of February came in slightly below the highest estimates, and the bond market leapt for joy. Actually, the bond market really leapt--not that I have any idea what a market leaping looks like--because the report that contained the new jobs number also showed that wages rose just 0.1 percent last month. It must be so odd to be a bond trader, knowing that the market's going to rise only if millions of Americans are home wishing their paychecks were just a little bit bigger.
In any case, it was a buoyant week on Wall Street, the kind that got people talking about Dow 10,000 again, and that brought tech stocks roaring back. Consumers keep buying, Internet stocks keep going up, and there's a musical based on Bright Lights, Big City on Broadway. Don't you ever get the feeling that this will all end in tears? On the other hand, the job market's booming, profits are better than expected, and productivity is soaring. So maybe the Golden Age is here. At least until the millennium arrives. Until then, we've still got Cocktail Chatter to occupy our attention for a brief minute (or two, if I'm lucky).
1. "Banque National de Paris made a $37 billion takeover offer for two of its largest rivals in a deal that, if it goes through, will create the world's biggest bank. Its two rivals, meanwhile, called the bid 'a hazardous venture.' I like the 19th century ring of 'hazardous venture.' You can almost see the dreams of being Rothschilds dancing through the bankers' heads."
2. "Japan Tobacco paid $8.5 billion for R.J. Reynolds' international tobacco assets. That's about $1.5 billion more than anyone else thought they were worth. I keep waiting for Japan Tobacco to announce that it thought it was paying 8.5 billion yen."
3. "According to the New York Times, Philip Morris sold 945 billion cigarettes last year. How'd that be for an ad slogan: 'In 1998 alone, we sold 945 billion carcinogen-delivery devices. And in 1999, we hope to sell even more. We're Philip Morris.' "
4. "Al Gore unveiled a plan 'to strengthen the rights of airline passengers,' consisting mainly of rules designed to push airlines to tell passengers about how they deal with what are essentially unavoidable problems. They should just call it the 'Here's exactly why we're pissing you off, even though there's nothing you can do about it' initiative."
5. "Sony announced that it would be cutting 10 percent of its workforce and closing a fifth of its factories in the next four years, thereby joining a host of other Japanese companies that have embarked on ambitious restructuring plans. The question is: If, in the 1980s, we thought Japanese companies promised lifetime employment, and now we find out that they don't, were they ever promising lifetime employment, or did everyone know 'lifetime' just meant 'lifetime unless we run into some trouble along the way'?"
6. "Ecuador, which is essentially on the verge of collapse, declared a 60-day state of emergency in response to a tumbling currency that has led to bank holidays and inflationary pressures. I can see the Quito News headline now: 'Wall Street to Ecuador: Drop Dead.' "
7. "Giant Dutch retailer Royal Ahold announced that it would be buying grocery-store chain Pathmark for $250 million. I know there's a clogs and tulip joke in there somewhere, but for the life of me, I can't find it."