"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 16 April 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Conservation of What Matters

At its peak last spring, the Nasdaq's total market capitalization — that is, the total value of all companies listed on the world's tech-heaviest stock exchange — had risen to $6.7 trillion. A couple Barron's cover stories and some self-fulfilling panic later, the whole thing's worth less than $3 trillion. That means nearly $4 trillion dollars (more than twice this year's entire Federal budget) has vanished in just 12 months. Gone. Vamoosed. Flushed. Sink-holed. In the words of the AOL Guy: "Goodbye."

We're no economists, but we did do pretty well on our math SATs, and so it's with some authority that we say the money didn't just get up and walk away. If an individual company suffered this kind of loss, SEC cops and forensic accountants and many, many lawyers would be crawling all over the place within twenty minutes, trying to follow the money. Something must explain the seeming disappearance of all that dough. Herewith, some theories as to where all the money has gone. None exactly reveals a smoking gun, but many do at least seem to be related to smoking of some sort.

1. Wall Street has abandoned growth stocks for value stocks. This was part of the story in 2000 as "safer" sectors like pharmaceuticals and financials soaked up a lot of the money that was running out of tech. But now many of those value stocks are down, too. The money isn't here.

2. OK, It's moved into the bond market. This would be a good theory, except that the bond market hasn't risen nearly enough to compensate for the huge losses in equities. Part of the reason: Almost nobody who doesn't professionally trade bonds understands how they work. An investment in fixed-income is an investment in making yourself feel dumb. And we already feel dumb enough for having had so much money in stocks.

3. Maybe foreign investors repatriated their investments. As US markets kicked ass throughout the 90s, the Land of the Free became the place to invest. Then the bear chased all the nice overseas money back across the oceans. Oh wait. Their markets are in the shitter, too, and some of those foreign shitters aren't all that nice. No answer here.

4. It's in numbered accounts stashed under a mountain somewhere outside of Zurich. Be patient. We'll find out the full story in about 50 years.

5. It's right around here someplace. All we need to do is sit down and think a moment. Let's just retrace our steps. Where did we have it last? It will turn up eventually. It's always in the last place we look. Did we check our coat pockets?

6. It was tied up in NCAA pools. Now the big winners can return to gambling on stocks again. Buy!

7. Someone paid the deli guy with the wrong change. Someone down on Wall who usually buys his a.m. cruller with a five inadvertently slipped the counterman a three-trillion.

8. Burn Rate applied too literally. Those fires in Wyoming last summer? Cocky options babies went camping, used stock certificates for kindling. A few Coors later things got out of hand. Now we're having a recession and global warming and the former billionaires-with-braces are defaulting on their student loans. Way to go, dudes.

9. The money's been anonymously donated to the United Way. This will end world hunger, stop pollution, restore 200 endangered species and fund thousands of experimental film and theater works, all within the next 12 months. Then the world economy will collapse.

10. Napster really has damaged the economy. The total dissolution of intellectual property rights has caused the chaotic breakdown of our once-proud economic system, which explains the widespread unemployment, nationwide rioting, bread lines and disease we're now facing. [Private to Suck fact check: this from RIAA white paper, pls. confirm bef. press time.]

11. Larry Summers embezzled it from Treasury. If the Harvard endowment rises sharply this year — like a 100,000 percent or so — we've got our rat.

12. Bill Clinton, end-of-term depression, binge eating. Finding Haagen-Dasz wasn't rich enough to satisfy his powerful cravings, the Ingester-in-Chief consumed, in the waning weeks of his eight-year power trip, an astonishing $3.5 trillion in crisp $100 bills.

13. You have it. And we're on to you.

14. I have it. None of you can be sure I don't.

15. Dr. Evil has it. Oh, Austin, what are we going to do?

16. Material wealth is but an illusion. As should now be apparent.

Courtesy of the Johny Cache

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