Oh, do front-page post-mortems on big mistakes the business media made ever make The Business Press Maven hot.
That is why, hands down,
The Wall Street Journal
gets this week's coveted Business Press Maven "Nod of Approval" award.
Before we climb into the glories of the article, you have to know that there are essentially two ways you can make or lose money from what you read, hear or watch from the business media.
They can write a good (or bad) article on an individual company, one that you follow to your portfolio's everlasting credit or regret.
But talk about reader beware: Think twice before you throw your money at the bunioned feet of a trend story -- those articles or televisions segments about big undisputed notions about how everything is changing one way or another.
Unlike stories about individual companies, which can hit or miss, trend stories are most often forced affairs, and can stray so thoroughly than anything an investor does under their guidance gets them hurt.
As a young impressionable lad, I was forced to read "Japanese Miracle" articles everywhere I looked in the 1980s, about how Japan had found a magic formula to permanent economic expansion and would blowback other countries in world trade forever.
Turned out, they were just on an overripe little run and a semipermanent recession would follow for years.
The "Japanese Miracle" business media debacle helped form The Business Press Maven's thankless compulsion to be an advocate for the investor, to fight the snarky fight against business media idiocy.
Then came the days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, when everyone was adrift and confused -- except the business media, who, for all intents and purposes, spoke in unison about how the economy would tank: individual companies would have to hire a cumbersome number of security guards, even as they built up inventories so their products would not be held up at border crossings.
Everything would change, we were told. And told.
In fairness, the business media was only echoing what most members of the general public thought.
But for investors looking to avoid rash decisions in the future -- "I don't want to own
, it'll have to hire an army of guards to protect its secret formula from terrorists" -- it is essential that they have a working knowledge of why Japanese Miracle or Sept. 11 Recession orthodoxies of the business media tend to be so wrong.
just laid out the simple facts -- so counterintuitive to those jumping to conclusions at the time -- that had the economy humming instead of hurting in the years after Sept. 11, 2001.
Security costs were a false worry because while the risk of terrorism might have been great, it was spread across society.
With apologies to Coke's secret formula, no one company had too much to protect.
Technology couldn't, as was predicted with near unanimity in the late 1990s (don't get me started), forestall any recession by allowing companies to manage inventories perfectly. But by 2001, companies were still benefiting from a degree of added efficiency. If they had to hire a few sleepy security rent-a-cops or post some cameras, hey, they could swing it.
coverage of the economy and various sectors in the five years since 9/11 can be found
The larger point is that the best way to fight against the business media getting future issues this wrong is to highlight what went wrong in the past and why.
The Wall Street Journal
, The Business Press Maven nods in your general direction.
It pains me to hand out two tongue baths so, luckily, I can now make my way to one of the most misleading pieces of the week.
, you earned the dreaded Business Press Maven "Back of the Hand" award. This dishonor comes from an article at the beginning of the week framing the CPI data at the end of the week to be the end all and be all -- all dependent upon 1/10 of a percent.
Here is the headline: "Inflation cliffhanger this week: Tiny change in CPI report to have major repercussions in markets."
"The August consumer price index is the main event for the week," said the lead and "
rarely has so much been riding
on such a narrow difference in the data." (Italics added.)
Talk about putting the Thousand Yard Scare into investors. Everything rides on this!
Fortunately, wise market watchers know that when people start grabbing in desperation at small statistical differences in economic numbers, it's a good sign that worry is rampant and the stock market is poised to move higher.
(The Business Press Maven remembers fondly that in the wake of the 1987 crash, traders focused on tiny differences in the budget cutting packages being considered by Congress -- a smoke and mirror cut of a billion here or there seemed essential; this, in a multitrillion dollar economy.)
Anyhow: turns out here that the CPI number came in at 0.2%, which was good and the market reacted alright.
But anyone who takes that 0.2% as an all-clear sign for inflation in the long run would be foolhardy, Just as anyone who took a 0.3% too much to heart looking-out would be tripped up; or, in honor of the headline, hung by their feet off a cliff.
Economic numbers -- even the ones that are not regularly revised -- are complex little organisms. Don't let anyone tell you that minor differences have "major" repercussions.
A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children.