The reason you should avoid the stock market is that - to put it in technical terms - nobody knows anything. This is abundantly obvious from the financial reporting on the TV news. No matter what the stock market does, the TV news always boils down to this:
Tom Brokaw: The stock market today went either down or up, and nobody on this earth knows why. For more, here's our financial expert.
Financial expert: Tom, analysts attributed the movement of the market to a market movement, in which the market moves either upward or downward, depending on the direction of the market, although sometimes it holds still.
Brokaw: And is this expected to continue? Financial expert: Tom, it's too soon to tell.
In terms of solid information, we're in the same situation as members of a primitive tribe seeing their first solar eclipse. We're sitting around, pounding roots: when suddenly...the sun is going out! We don't understand! We're scared!
Fortunately, we have witch doctors. They explain the sun, is being swallowed by a giant worm, and they can scare it away by performing certain dance steps while waving a magic feather and wearing a hat made from the skull of a weasel. We believe them, because, hey, they must know something, right?
It's the same with the stock market, except that instead of a giant worm, we have a recession, and instead of witch doctors, we have expert financial analysts, and instead of a weasel skull, we have Alan Greenspan. What we don't have is any kind of clue as to what the stock market is going to do.
That's why, for quality entertainment, you can't beat TV commercials for large investment institutions. They all have the same message, which is:
"These are scary times for investors, so give us your money! You can trust us, because we have a large building."
Eighteen months ago, the experts sincerely believed we were in a New Economy, and the way to get rich was to invest in a new business model, one based on a revolutionary economic principle: stupidity.
This was the principle behind the dot-com boom, a wonderful example of which was an Internet company called Boo.com. According to an article I read in the New York Times, Boo.com was conceived as an Internet site that would sell, at full price, "urban chic' clothing... that was so cool it wasn't even cool yet."
In other words, Boo.com was going to sell, with no discount, clothes that most people were not wearing! This idea was so obviously stupid that it was irresistible to the financial experts. Big investors, including the prestigious financial firm J. P. Morgan, hurled millions of dollars at Boo.com; Fortune magazine named it one of the "Cool Companies of 1999."
Boo.com went through $185 million in 18 months and is now under new management, since the original company went bankrupt, along with the rest of the New Economy.
But J. P. Morgan is still here, and so is Fortune magazine, and so are all the other financial experts, dancing around, waving their magic feathers. They no longer believe in the New Economy. I don't know what they believe in at the moment, but I'm sure they believe in it very deeply. And despite the skepticism I've expressed in this column, I believe there are some good investment opportunities in today's market. I myself am heavily into Maxwell House.
Dave Barry is a humour columnist for the Miami Herald