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I have an idea for a new television channel. Bear with me for a second. I was in an airport terminal and everyone was slack-jawed, staring blindly at the TV set. It was tuned to some news channel and a woman who apparently had some minor disagreement with a bartender was busy getting tasered by a cop or security guard. He was following her all over the ground while she flailed about screaming.
The week before, I was in a restaurant that had a TV and everyone was looking at a similar video, but of a guy being tasered because he, more or less, disagreed with John Kerry in an exceedingly vocal manner.
People love this stuff. There’s something about watching someone being tasered that really gets the adrenaline going. And for some reason, it seems as if everyone who gets tasered is also being video-taped.
So let’s get this going: The Taser Channel. People getting tasered 24-hours a day. Maybe even make it a subscription channel since, realistically, I don’t think advertisers will like it very much.
The reason why I’m only half kidding is because a channel such as this would have millions of viewers. It would be like the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column. Everyone would deny watching it but secretly at night, when they awoke from whatever plagued them in their dreams, they would tune in and watch America’s favourite taser channel until the sun rose.
Sadly, people like to watch, read and spy on sorrow and pain. When the pain is being inflicted by another human, all the better. With our current media outlets it’s hard to go on a “pain diet” – ie avoid all exposure to the suffering around us. And why should we, one might ask, since suffering is reality. But hope is reality, too.
There is much suffering right now in the markets and the economy, and pundits will be more than happy to tell you about it. Yes, there are hard-working people who own their first homes and are going to lose them. With employment at a peak and a potential economic slowdown in certain sectors many people will lose their jobs.
Even one per cent more unemployment means more than 1m people will experience severe shortfalls in their quality of life. In spite of any Fed cuts, banks have stopped lending money, meaning that any hope to a fast resolution of these issues has been postponed for months, if not even a year or so.
I was at a dinner a week ago comprised mostly of investors, venture capitalists, bloggers and other ilk gathered to exchange ideas. In the middle of the main course I heard a well-known pundit shout across his table: “The Fed is Wall Street’s bitch” and everyone laughed as he went on to describe the disaster he foresaw.
But none of this is the way to make money. Staring slack-jawed at an economy that seems to be flailing on the ground ignores the fact that time and time again the tasered victims get up, walk around and then appear on the morning talk shows to tout the injustice they suffered (which allows us to visit repeatedly the videos in question).
Look at 20 years ago. The market was at all time highs, then came a surprise rate cut, a weakening dollar, all followed by a crash. It’s scary to imagine that it could happen again and we could see a fall of 20 per cent or more in the major indices.
But it won’t happen. August 2007 had more insider buying (chief executives, directors, employees, etc) than the past four years. The market has a floor on it only a few per cent away from all time highs because the people who know best – the ones who outstrip me and you in the knowledge of their businesses – are putting their hands in their pockets and using every dollar to buy stock. And companies are dirt cheap regardless of the economy.
Exxon, for instance, with a market cap of more than $500bn, trades at just six times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation. These companies have a solid floor.
Let’s look at some other possibilities. Tween Brands, which makes clothes for kids, is buying back $175m worth of its stock and trades for just 7.5 times cash flows. Armoured vehicle company Brink’s, whose vehicles protect our rapidly weakening currency, trades for six times cash flow and is spending $100m to buy back its own stock. Ann Taylor, perhaps the chain with my favourite women’s clothing, has seen insiders buy back more than $1m worth of stock in recent weeks and trades for just 6.5 times cash flows. ImClone on the verge of curing cancer, just saw its chief executive buy $500,000 worth of stock.
Every step of the way, buy hope and ignore the fear. And try to turn off the TV the next time someone is simply flailing and saying nothing of interest.