Cocktail Chatter

No rest for the weary, at least not during a short week in which global markets have behaved in their traditional even-tempered, take-the-long-view manner. As John Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we’re all dead, but somehow I think “the long run” didn’t mean “the next two weeks.” The spectacle of the U.S. stock market soaring 380 points on Tuesday and then giving that entire gain back–and more–by Thursday brings irresistibly to mind the Rodney Dangerfield of Caddyshack, yelling into his golf-bag phone, “Buy! Buy! … What? Then, sell! Sell! Sell!”

Think of how unhappy Wall Street would be if the brokerage houses weren’t making a commission on every single trade.

Of course, the fall is a traditionally busy time on the Street, but what with the hectic summer, it seemed possible that the Dow might subside as a likely topic of cocktail-party conversation, being replaced instead by the more common topics of cyclical spending, the impact of the Six Sigma program on GE’s earnings, and Sun Microsystem’s new Jini platform. Next week, perhaps.

1. “If the stock market really did tumble because Ken Starr released his report, isn’t that a bit like selling the rumor and selling the fact? Were investors really expecting Starr to say, ‘In the interests of the nation, I’ve burned the report in my fireplace?’”

2. “For the first time in history, the SEC is going to try to make sure that people who buy corporate bonds will get at least an inkling of the markup that bond dealers have been charging them all along. It’s not like the stock market, but it’s a start. Surprisingly, Wall Street hasn’t welcomed these changes with open arms. But I thought the lack of transparency was what was wrong with all those Asian economies.”

3. “Living in a Latin American country right now has to be incredibly bitter. These countries did everything they were supposed to do. They were fiscally responsible, refrained from printing money, welcomed foreign investors, paid tribute to the IMF. And they’re still getting smoked by the global marketplace. The currency traders’ thumbs-down is impossible to beat.”

3a. “Now American banks have to worry about whether their Latin American loans–which run into the tens of billions of dollars–are at risk. Next week, we’re going to find out that Citicorp has lent a huge amount of money to a secret tribe living in Antarctica.”

4. “Rupert Murdoch purchased the Manchester United soccer team for $1 billion, prompting the usual cries of outrage from people horrified at the thought of what Murdoch’s mercenary impulses might mean. Yeah, we wouldn’t want him paying millions of dollars to lure foreign players to England, or fostering a fan culture of hooliganism or anything like that. Those would be really dramatic changes.”

5. “Northwest Airlines pilots continue their 12-day strike. The airline’s been running ads talking about how much money the pilots make for a 15-day work month. But someone working 15 days flying jets has to be just a tad better paid than someone working 30 days at a 7-11, don’t you think?”

6. “Iridium, the global cellular-phone system that will rely on 66 low-flying satellites to put through its calls, just announced that it’s going to be delaying the full rollout of its service. If you’re an Iridium customer in late September, you will (as promised) be able to call anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, you’ll only be able to call three other people.”

7. “Buy! Buy! Sell! Sell! ” or something like that.