“What’s most ‘true’ about a story often includes the shimmery part of life that hasn’t happened yet,” wrote experimental fiction writer Carolyn Cooke. If that sounds delightfully artistic, it is; it’s also how the stock market is deciding your fate.
This week, you might have had a day - Thursday - when you felt as if the world was returning to normal. Your 401k was up again; you could almost forget your COVID-19 The World is Ending worries. On Friday, the market sank into bipolar misery; it was tempting to listen to shyster "market experts" predicting Depression-era breadlines.
The stock market is a virtual reality game of the future, which is terrible, but not as mysterious as the so-called experts would have you believe. (That's how they make their money: they are the high priests, the marabouts, the Asperger Seers, blind to emotion yet manifesting destiny.)
Like the bank of supercomputers in Alex Garland’s moody, atmospheric HBO series DEVS, the stock market is a seething knotted universe of algorithms that reacts like an octopus to various stimuli, foretelling and sometimes changing the future.
With a little work, you, too, can be a seer. Unpleasant as you might find the market's lack of social conscience (or any conscience, really) this is merely self-defense. Like Kevin Bacon, we’re never more than six degrees from Wall Street. Wall Street is in our heads and in our wallets.
Hey, I’m no expert. Not officially, anyway. My father was a nuclear physicist; I studied Aesthetics at Santa Cruz (OK, I’m a Boomer) and worked for twenty years untangling these very algorithms for Japanese companies and later, for a trading house. I day trade for a living. Like the DEVS code monkeys, I watch.
Call me the Dada Economist. I’ve been asked to lend you reassurance. I can almost do that. I’ll be writing intermittently here. I’ve agreed to 15 check-ins: Fifteen Handkerchiefs. (Look it up.) If the details don't interest you, just read the next paragraph. Then you can wash your hands or take a walk.
The market has priced in the Coronavirus Scenario. Your 401k is likely to bounce up and down by 10-15 percent but probably not fall by 30-50 percent. Of course, I'm not sure. Nobody is.
Now to the Week That Was and Then Wasn't. Mid-week, stocks rallied before hurtling down, sending even the most even-keeled retirees into BipolarLand. Speaking of Bipolar, let’s talk about Elon Musk.
The South Africa-born billionaire founder of Tesla and SpaceX has a penchant for getting stoned and failing to avoid Twitter. On Friday, he had a fight with his girlfriend and bared his soul:
That wasn't too bad and the fact that he owns Gene Wilder's house is kind of sweet. But check the last one:
Yep, that's right. "Tesla stock price is too high imo." The founder and CEO of Tesla, the electric car company whose stock had almost quadrupled in the past year, just stiffed his own company. By the end of the day, Tesla stock had dropped $13 billion of its value, and Musk's own share dropped $3 billion.
This happened because of a tweet. (If the thought occurs to you that Elon Musk is taken more seriously on Wall Street than the president, at least this president, I can't argue with you.)
Color me skeptical. Tesla is overvalued; Musk was simply telling the truth. Was he stoned or planning a buyback once the stock dropped? Both? The Verge published a satirical emergency edition of "This Week in Elon" suggesting that the Securities and Exchange Commission could add this latest round of Musk tweets to the investigations it's already doing on stock manipulation. I prefer to think that Musk is a Dada genius who substitutes tech-entitled libertarianism for visionary socialism.
Of course, he's not going to sell his worldly possessions. He's just being a stoner. He's having fun with it, but he knows where the boundaries are.
Tesla is just one stock. Here's where the rest of the story comes in: Jeff Bezos. He is not only your faucet to the world. He is messing with your 401k. Don't worry; it's for a good cause.
On Thursday Amazon went up 100 points. Remember, Amazon is so gigantic that it moves markets. We are but minions in Amazon's Empire.
When Bezos reported to shareholders, he could have pushed the stock price up another 200 points by telling them the company was going to funnel profits into their pockets.
He did the opposite. After the trading day closed on Thursday, Bezos announced that Amazon was going to invest profits into coronavirus mitigation and safety. Not some of the company's profits. All of them.
"If you're a shareowner in Amazon, you may want to take a seat, because we're not thinking small," Bezos said in a release. "Under normal circumstances, in this coming Q2, we'd expect to make some $4 billion or more in operating profit. But these aren't normal circumstances. Instead, we expect to spend the entirety of that $4 billion, and perhaps a bit more, on COVID-related expenses."
Bezos' announcement screwed the futures market. It fucked the futures traders. It negatively impacted world markets and it negatively impacted the market's opening on Friday, dragging down Apple, Facebook, and Google. These mega-tech companies basically are the market now.
People get nervous on Friday, anyway. The trading junkies won't have a button to press for a whole two days.
This is why Bezos is bucking for the world's richest man and I'm not. He trusts himself, absolutely. Bezos is also a PR genius, as his end run around the National Enquirer showed. He's neutralizing criticism of Amazon's labor practices and potential anti-monopoly moves, he looks like a good guy, and Amazon is a fucking fortress. Friday was a buying opportunity, unless you're depressed from staying home and you think the world is ending.
The conventional wisdom is to ignore the day-to-day gyrations of the stock market. But everyone with a little retirement money set aside is acting like a day trader now. You can watch the numbers tick up and down in real time on your iPhone (Apple stock is doing OK, btw). The adrenaline doesn't always go to a good place. Believe me, I know.
It's the weekend. Chill. The Market has already priced in our upcoming Third World unemployment figures, the decimation of small business, the soaring costs of medical care in a pandemic. The deaths.
The Market is a virtual realm. The Market lives in the future.
And the Future is Priced In.
Everybody’s Going For The Money : Spider John Koerner
Money Money : The Roaring Lion
All My Money : Dan Reeder
Money No Be Sand : Charles Iwegbue & His Archibogs
Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend : T Bone Burnett
No Money Down : Chuck Berry
Where’s The Money : Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks