Words Alone Can’t Explain This Stock Market

By: Charles Payne

Last week, I read that the folks at Oxford English Dictionary had
a slate of American English words for consideration in future
editions. Apparently, because of its international influence via
the entertainment industry, America is the prime source of new
entries into the language (I guess it’s good to see the country
still has some influence, because there are very few areas that
our global neighbors still look up to us). The word erm that I
found to be the most interesting for consideration is bling-bling.

The word refers to large jewelry, such as platinum chains and
diamond rings that rappers and athletes sport. However, the word
could also perfectly describe the nature of the stock market in
the late 1990s. Moreover, it is the perfect way to describe the
pay packages of CEOs, and lest not forget that house that the
former CFO of WorldCom is building in Boca Raton. Although it
is obvious that the editors at OED are becoming hipper, they’re
still a little slow on the latest in urban vernacular. In this
case, it is probably a blessing. According to the Financial
Times, a writer from Houston recently stated, "The Bling-bling era
is over". It better be, as far as individual investors are
concerned. In fact, the bling-bling era has temporarily been
replaced by the but-but era. Or in some cases the butt-butt era.
The latter refers to how many investors feel after being taken
advantage of by the entire system, or to the expression on the
faces of those that continue to take the 5th during congressional

In the meantime, the Bush administration spends a lot of time
saying "but-but". The drubbing of stocks was the clearest
message the people have sent since the Boston Tea party.
Moreover, it wasn’t just Americans that were voicing their
dissatisfaction with the President’s address concerning the
confidence crisis. When those safe haven stocks began to tumble
during the week, one had to know that it represented a lot of
foreign investment. As Ross Perot would have said, that was a
big sucking sound. (By the way, didn’t he get in trouble this
week?) Yes, the foreigners are taking their money out of the
market just as fast as US investors, who withdrew about $20
billion from funds last week. It is interesting that much
hasn’t been made of the simple fact that the market can’t
go higher if there is more money going out as there is coming
in. Anyway, I think Bush will come back with a more definitive
plan that goes beyond punishment and maybe focuses on prevention.
I know that the GOP thinks that those dynamics are one and the
same, but in certain situations they’re not.

The spectrum is such that those that have nothing to lose, and
see no other way, aren’t going to be swayed by prison terms or
other forms of punishment. Sharing this space are those that are
either so inherently criminal, that it is part of their being to
break the law and those that are so blinded by greed that any
risk is worth the reward.

In their zeal to achieve bling-bling
status, there is nothing that can stop them. They break every rule
in the game. So, it stands to reason that these same people would
first manipulate the rules, bending, twisting and corrupting them.

There, ladies and gentlemen, is where the President has to focus
his next address on the topic. After all, when it comes to those
in this country that see no other way, the rules are extremely
precise. If a 19 year-old kid from the ghetto can get 10-years
in prison for selling $20.00 worth of crack then that person
knows the risk when he/she hits the street corner. (A discussion
on the fairness of this type of sentencing could go on forever.
I do find it shocking that the type of fraud that results in
people losing their entire life savings only has a maximum term
of five years. The but-but crowd has never seen anything unfair
about such inequitable punishment, but may begin to backfire on

The rules of the game have to change to the point where anyone
investing in the stock market understands them. Let’s face it,
many of the companies and individuals facing public scorn did
nothing illegal. On Wall Street it was akin to some sort of magic
show. The sleight of hand was rewarded and applauded. You bought
stocks because a company could manipulate the numbers. You loved
management that found ways not to pay taxes. The CEO that could
only pull a rabbit out of the hat was seen as behind the times.
Heck, we loved to see the company sawed in half, only to emerge
whole by the time the earnings were announced. The President has
to understand that the audience doesn’t want that anymore. They
want reality television. No more tricks, no more hocus-pocus.
No more voodoo accounting. No more but-but.

In the end, the president has to cast a net so wide and ambitious
that he may even be snared by it. This is the law and order party,
so we expected longer prison terms. However that doesn’t change
the fact that there is too much gray area in the rules, and until
that changes many public companies are going to go for bling-bling.
After all, that is the difference between a for-profit and a
not-for-profit-company. At the very least, individual investors
buy stocks in companies because they think the company will grab
the brass ring (if you’re lucky, maybe said company
will reach the platinum ring).

A final thought on the Bush address. It is obvious that he has a
formidable obstacle in front of him trying to fix a problem that
is systemic in nature. Years of status quo have to be torn down,
almost overnight if the US equities market is to ever recover from
its current state. In the meantime, his get-tough approach could
put another nail in the coffin of small publicly traded companies.
I’m talking about the 3000 or so companies that trade like
orphans in the market, with no Jack Grubman to pump them. These
companies already pay a disproportionate amount of money on
compliance and filings. They simply can’t be expected to adhere to
the new rule changes; it will put many out of business. I’m not sure
if the public is in the mood for special exemptions or if the Bush
administration really cares or understands the problems. Yet it
could be disastrous. These small companies are already afraid of
the SEC, because they don’t have the large legal department that
can fight back. They need a break, or else another victim of the
current crisis in the American financial system will be the
American promise itself. The dream is that a company can get
financing and challenge the giants and in the process add to the
spirit that has kept America ahead of the rest if the world in
terms of innovation andtechnical prowess.

It is a tough and dire situation. Somewhere down the line the
goal of innovation and achievement gave way to greed. We all have
been seduced by bling-bling, but now it’s back to basics,
hopefully the market can hang in there while the transition is
being made.

Other Thoughts and Observations
A few weeks ago, I said that the individual investor wouldn’t
step in to buy stocks on weakness like they did post September 11th.
It is one thing to not let the bastards win, but another to bail out
homegrown bastards that abused the system and our trust. Since
then, the selling has become so pronounced that a hint of
patriotic fervor has returned. It moved long-time bear, Byron
Wein, to pick up the flag and say stocks are a buy. Other well
known Wall Street bears made upbeat comments about the long-term
potential of the stock market. However, none picked the bottom.

Outside of the days and weeks immediately following the terrorist
attacks, I can’t think of a time when Washington should be less
partisan. Forget the blame game for a moment and stop acting like
the Hatfield and McCoy clans. There is nothing to brag about and
the problems are so universal and pervasive that everyone has
played a role.

I’ve asked that everyone remain hopeful but gather as much cash
as possible. It may be time to put that cash to useFree Web Content, really soon.
My best guess is that 8177 is going to be the launching pad. I do
find it interesting that the techs are probably going to
outperform the blue chips this summer. If there is a new paradigm
shift then that means a long-term recovery in the stock market
will have to come from a sector other than the techs.


» More on Trading