Fireworks Chat

Have you bought your red-white-and-blue Nokia cell phone yet? What are you waiting for? Thanks to a request from AT&T, Scandinavian engineers are even now creating limited-edition flag phones to satisfy consumer demand, which sprang up in the wake of a Ma Bell ad featuring the devices. It’s enough to warm a patriot’s heart.

No cocktail party chatter this week, since no red-blooded American man, woman, or child would go to a cocktail party on July 4th. Instead, I’ve got fireworks and barbecue chatter for you. Here are seven conversational openers from the week in business to help fill those awkward moments while you’re standing over the grill, waiting for your burger, and to bridge the gaps between “Ohhh!” and “Wow!” as you’re watching the fireworks display. This week we’re confining the comments almost entirely to the fits of irrational exuberance and irrational despair that seized Wall Street all week long.

1. “Netscape’s stock was up almost 50 percent this week on news that it’s in talks with media companies about the future of its Netcenter web site. I wonder if Bill Gates is thinking about changing the name of to Microcenter just to annoy Mark Andreesen.”

2. “Advanced Fibre announced it was going to meet estimates, and its stock was knocked down 68 percent in a single day. That seems like the kind of thing that could put you off the buy-and-hold strategy forever.”

3. “DoubleClick, which I think is an Internet advertising placement service, saw its stock rise, oh, I don’t know, five or six hundred percent this week. Well, maybe not that much, but it rose a lot. The only reason was that it’s supposedly the third most-visited service on the Web. Except DoubleClick doesn’t have a Web site, just a series of ad trails on other Web sites. It’s as if Omnicom or Interpublic ad agencies were to say they were the sixth most-watched network on television.”

4. “There are times–like most of this week–when not investing in Internet stocks seems more like a moral statement than it does a rational investment decision. It’s not just that I think the bubble will burst. It’s that contributing to the bubble seems somehow wrong. But then that’s why I missed the last 75 points of’s rise.

5. “One interesting thing about the stock market’s continued ascent in the face of overwhelming evidence that valuations have gotten totally out of whack is that the IPO market has actually been singularly unimpressive. Except, of course, for Internet IPOs, most companies that have gone public have not seen their stocks jump in the way that was so characteristic of IPOs in 1996 and the first half of last year. Take MIPS, the Silicon Graphics spin-off. It ended its first day of trading with its stock price below where it opened.”

6. “It has to be said (and actually two different people I know have already said it): Are Internet investors smoking crack?”

6a. “After rising unbelievably fast all week on the most trivial of news–stock splits, preliminary conversations, etc.– Net stocks hit a wall around 10:20 am EDT on Thursday. Excite, for instance, dropped 15 points in about a half hour. So I’ll say it again: Are Internet investors smoking crack?”

7. “Stock of the week: Medirisk. Medi-RISK. What bitter irony. The stock dropped 14 points to $6 a share in a single day after announcing that it would fall about 10 cents short of estimates. If you were the CEO of that company, I think you’d feel like issuing a press release to Wall Street that just said: ‘We give up. It was a mistake for us ever to think we could satisfy you. We’re now taking our ball and going home.’”

Happy grilling.