Have you seen the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby? It's a must-see. It has many great qualities, including first-rate directing, acting, sets, costumes, and choreography. One scene in particular just took my breath away.
A gangster named Meyer Wolfsheim, a man who has been doing extremely dirty deals for a long time, runs into a novice bond salesman on Wall Street by the name of Nick Carraway.
After a series of conversational gambits in which we see that Wolfsheim has totally misunderstood who Carraway is, and has had the mistaken idea that Carraway wanted to be involved in selling fraudulent bonds, Wolfsheim looks at Carraway (astoundingly knowingly in the 2013 movie), and says to Carraway, “But you do work on Wall Street, right?”
By that he means, “You cannot be really clean as a whistle if you work on Wall Street.” And Carraway has no answer because he knows Wolfsheim is right.
Now, the book the movie was based on was set in 1922, more than 90 years ago. Wall Street has been cleaned up over and over again, endlessly, with every president promising to make it cleaner than it ever was.
But the sad truth is that when there is that much money sloshing around Wall Street, not just billions, but trillions, when there is not anywhere near such a thing as a mechanism to truly police the movement of so much money, especially when man is basically such a larcenous animal, there will be trickery and deceit. Not to mention theft.
This comes to mind when thinking about the wild dive in the stock market we experienced back in June. Why? Well, that’s the point . . . supposedly the market dove because the Federal Reserve has said the economy is reviving, and it no longer needs to pump immense sums into the economy.
But if the economy is doing better, why wouldn’t stocks go up? Stocks are a proxy for earnings of corporations, so why wouldn’t good economic news point to growth in earnings and thus higher stock prices?
Then the market was supposed to have gone down because bond yields were going up, and thus investors would want bonds instead of stocks — and maybe they will. But in a really prosperous economy, both stocks and bonds can rally. And the money spent on bonds doesn’t vanish. It can go right back into stocks.
So . . . then there was supposedly a bit of weakness in Chinese economic numbers. But those numbers are completely unreliable and inconsistent and largely believed to be just fictitious. Anyway, China’s trade with the United States is substantial but a small change in Chinese economic activity would mean very little for U.S. exports to China — and almost zero for gross economic activity in the USA.
Then there was some news about the ratio of the Japanese yen to the dollar. But how that is supposed to have a big impact on U.S. corporate earnings is a total mystery.
My point here is not that market news is not meaningful news. It is very meaningful — to stock traders looking for an excuse to move the markets, panic the next guy into selling, and making money off fear. This applies to all market moves including the current down trend due to squabbling in Congress.
Wall Street is mostly peopled by fine workers trying to do their best. But when you read about huge moves in the market without something very basic happening in the economy like the financial collapses of 2008, don’t feel you have to hit the panic button. There are plenty — plenty — of people on the Street who are happy to make money by scare tactics, trickery, and manipulation.
Just try to think about it all in terms of how much good it does to trade on panic and euphoria day by day — none at all — and realize that patience and calm make ordinary investors rich. Panic makes traders rich. Which are you?
Ben Stein is a writer, actor, and lawyer, who served as a speechwriter in the Nixon administration as the Watergate scandal unfolded. He began his unlikely road to stardom when director John Hughes cast him as the numbingly dull economics teacher in the urban comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Read more reports from Ben Stein — Click Here Now.
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