Cocktail Chatter

The Dow was up 132 points today. Seven days in a row it’s risen. It’s now higher than it’s been at any time since July. All the major indices have been rising steadily, in fact. Every time there’s a sell-off, buyers come flooding back in to the market. Fears about Asia, about Russia, about Brazil, about slumping corporate profits, about flights to quality, about deflation: fuggeddabout them all! We’re back in the Go-Go Nineties, baby, and the only thing we have to worry about now is, in the immortal words of Puffy and Mase, “more money, more problems.” But what interesting problems they are. “What color Mercedes should I buy now? Do I need the six-burner Wolf stove or will four burners do?” (And strictly speaking it’s “mo’ money, mo’ problems.”)

Someday that paragraph will be held up as an example of the excesses into which this bull market has led us. But until then we will still have Cocktail Chatter, which I promise will be less blissful about a stock market that is once again making a complete mockery of all traditional approaches to valuation. Herewith, then, the talking points.

1. “Phil Gramm has ascended to the head of the Senate Banking Committee, thanks to the defeat of Alfonse D’Amato. This is that rare appointment that almost no one is happy about. Gramm’s libertarian obstinacy will doom banking reform, making Wall Street gloomy, while his hostility to regulation will make the folks at the SEC, and anyone who cares about corporate openness, melancholy. But hedge-fund managers and Cayman Island banking authorities are probably thrilled.”

2. “Giant German conglomerate Siemens announced a major restructuring plan, shutting down entire operations and laying off thousands. This truly is a two-headed global economy: on the one hand, the death of vertical integration, and on the other, the irresistible affection for mergers and behemoths of the Citigroup/DaimlerChrysler stripe.”

3. “Speaking of Citigroup, president Jamie Dimon was fired on Sunday for reasons that remain somewhat obscure, although every article on the subject mentioned that Dimon had quarreled with co-CEO Sandy Weill’s daughter. (Let’s hope that had nothing to do with a major personnel decision by the largest bank in the world.) But the early edition of Monday’s Wall Street Journal ran a story on possible changes at Citigroup that described the changes as ‘likely to strengthen the role of James Dimon.’ Apparently the cry of ‘STOP THE PRESSES!’ came too late.”

4. “I’m not sure what this has to do with finance, but did you notice that that guy in Tennessee who killed his opponent in the race for the state legislature actually got 1,500 votes? A new definition of yellow-dog Republican: someone who will vote for a murderer over the widow of his victim.”

5. “In two weeks, Wal-Mart will air a live Garth Brooks concert in every one of its 2,390 stores. And they say that Wal-Mart is a blight upon our landscape. Fools!”

6. “How long will it be before some cultural-studies professor writes a paper for the MLA called: ‘Chief Executives named Bill and the Politics of Deconstructive Video-Tape Performativity, or How Many Different Ways There Are to Annoy Your Inquisitors’?’”

7. “Polo Ralph Lauren fell well short of earnings expectations in the past quarter, and its stock took it on the chin as a result. I think the company’s response should have been: “We make the exact same clothes every year. Is it our fault if people don’t buy them?”