S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 6 August 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Trade Rage

 

[]

America's latest mass murderer

— Mark O. Barton — was a

day trader, and the only

question is: What took so long?

Everybody knows that

testosterone-addled,

foul-mouthed, money-blind stock

speculators are ticking bombs.

 

Weirdly, the only news outlet to

unashamedly trumpet the

day-trading angle was Rupert

Murdoch's New York Post, where

Barton is known as the "Slay

Trader." Elsewhere, the

proximate cause of Barton's

spree was quickly smoothed over.

Harvey Houtkin, chairman and

chief executive officer of All-

Tech Investment Group, where

Barton traded, doubted that the

shootings had "anything to do

with a down day in the market."

Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell

confessed to the press that "I

don't know if we'll ever know

what the true motives ... were."

CNN headline writers were

especially perplexed. "Shooter

lost $105,000 in month," they

wrote, "but motive still a

mystery."

 

All the news outlets were eager

to point out that the mysterious

hatchet murders of Barton's

ex-wife and her mother in 1993,

for which Barton was a suspect,

suggest that he may have lost

his marbles years before he took

a wrong position in MP3.com or

shorted eBay. Nonetheless, to

those Americans unburdened by

the weighty responsibilities of

the Fourth Estate, Barton is the

obvious poster boy for market

mania. He offers a believable

cautionary tale to overwrought

day traders, who live every

second on the edge of panic, and

does double duty as a narrative

of karmic retribution for those

few Americans who still scorn

trading.

 

[]

We're lucky that most people

never act on their feelings,

because there's no denying that

the stresses of day trading make

many people feel like pulling

the trigger — especially

lately. The impersonal delays of

highway traffic that spawn road

rage are nothing compared to the

merciless punishment available

in the stock market on a bad

morning. And for many day

traders, most of the mornings

since mid-April have been bad.

In the last few months, the

technology and Internet stocks

beloved by Barton and other

amateurs have lost as much as

half of their value. What once

seemed so easy — get up, buy

YHOO, wait a few hours, sell

YHOO, tally profits — has

become an anxiety-ridden

nightmare of less-than-perfect

timing.

 

The day trading favorites haven't

just gone south, they've gone

nutty. Good news is followed by

sell-offs. Bad news causes

unexpected runs. Two weeks ago,

for instance, in the middle of

the trading day, Amazon's

frontdoor went down, and

customers were greeted with a

message apologizing for

technical difficulties.

Instantly, the word spread

across trading chat rooms and

message boards. Just as the

little guys jumped into the

action, the stock jerked upward,

wrecking those who had sold

short on margin. Five minutes

later, Amazon's Web site came

back, good as new. The day

traders who hadn't yet been

reduced to tears began buying

in anticipation of a further

rise. Naturally, the stock

jerked downward again.

It's the kind of thing that

provokes howls of pain on the

Internet message boards,

inspires countless conspiracy

theories, and produces a look of

tight-lipped mayhem that will

soon be known, if it isn't

already, as "trade rage."

 

[]

Mark O. Barton's last trade was

in April, so maybe he was

whipsawed out of his trading

account when the bull took a

breather. Or worse, maybe he

just had a bad trade or two, not

even enough to wipe him out, but

enough to leave him afraid.

Afraid he'd lost his touch.

Afraid his next trade would be

another bankroll-burning

blunder. Afraid he was born to

lose. Since gun-loving white men

with self-esteem problems

provide the candidate pool from

which Barton-style mass

murderers are selected, it's

scary to think about the effect of

the stock market on this group.

 

After all, the stock market

doesn't beat around the bush. It

doesn't give A's for effort. It

doesn't say, "Everybody is

special, just in their own way."

The stock market offers direct,

quantitative confirmation of

exactly how much of a loser you

are. And at the precise moment

you realize you are broke, at

least some of your fellow

traders — the ones Barton

referred to as "the greedy ones"

— will be doing Cuba Gooding

Jr.–style victory dances

around their computers,

reminding you that your savings

didn't merely vanish into thin

air; it vanished into somebody

else's trading account.

 

[]

We have to wonder whether the

rush to absolve day trading of

any responsibility for Barton's

crimes didn't have some ulterior

motives behind it. Could it be

that the top journalists, whose

retirement accounts are socked

away in mutual funds,

intuitively understood that a

link between mass murder and the

Nasdaq might not be the best

thing for the composite index?

If so, this self-censorship may

be shortsighted.

 

It takes both positive and

negative reinforcement to keep

the bull moving, and having

inflated the bubble for years

with stories of little old

ladies getting rich off their

capital gains, it is time for

another approach to delaying the

pop — a stick to complement that

carrot of years past. The smart

thing would be to remind the

nervous Nellies that there are

other Bartons out there in the

silence, and they are counting

on the stock market to float

them out of their misery. Yes,

there are many other Bartons out

there, and they have a message

for you, Mr. and Mrs. Small

Investor.

 

The message is: "Keep buying

stocks, or we'll kill you."

 
courtesy of the Day Traders
 
 
 
 
 
 



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