Whistling in the Dark

While the Street is merry, Dave worries enough for everyone.
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It's a strange landscape we've entered into. On Wall Street, as multibillion dollar deals roll through the adolescent Internet sector, people act as though nothing will ever bother them. It's the kind of calm one might associate with a windless morning along a lake shore. Almost wispy.

Where is the worry? Just a shred would make me feel better. It's long been said that fear and concern are good building blocks for the stock market. Right now, as I walk through the canyons of lower Manhattan on the way to and from the office, it's tough to sense the concern.

Sure, you have the bears, the

Jim Grants

and

Jim Stacks

of the world. But these guys, for the most part, sound hollow. They're not so much concerned as they are bewildered and overwhelmed by the continued strength of the stock market. Even the signposts of concern -- margin changes,

Greenspan's

fretting about valuation,

Arthur Levitt's

warnings -- are ground up and rolled over so quickly that they hardly merit a second thought. I can't remember the last time someone worried about inflation out loud.

The shrinking memory of the populace also seems surreal. This past fall, the President of the United States warned about the worst financial crisis since World War II. In Asia, China's battling difficulties, but few care to talk much about that. And Japan -- remember Japan? -- has been cast to the periphery of the stock market conversation. The Asian economic crisis? It feels like it happened last century. It seems as though the vastly accelerated pace of Internet time is operating throughout our collective brainspace, quickly pushing bad memories to the distant corners of our mind.

Generally, when things get this blase the stock market likes to shock and surprise us. There's really not any specific reason that the stock market

ought

to surprise us. The big generals,

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

,

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

,

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

and

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

continue to thunder ahead. The enormous flow of money into the stock market continues unabated. The government at the state and federal level is awash in cash. Millionaires are getting minted on an hourly basis. Jobs abound. Growth remains surprisingly robust.

Perhaps it's merely the old Minnesotan in me that is a little bit addled by all of this. When Minnesotans greet one another, it's usually "How's it going?" with the standard response being, "Not so bad." Or, when a warm day comes in November, the reaction is "We're going to pay for this later. Winter will be cold." But for some reason, it would comfort me to feel a little more fear, a little more trepidation in the air. A little shot across the bow, a little smack in the face. Something that would remind people that occasionally the stock market plays the fickle beast rather than the obedient money machine.

Perhaps this column will do the trick. Consider me your designated worrier for the day. Perhaps we each ought to take turns getting a little knotted up, that way we could be sure that there's just enough worry out there to keep everything going in the right direction. Who's turn is it next week?

Whoops!

In the Nov. 11, 1998

Barron's

, Paul Wick of the

(SLMCX) - Get Report

Seligman Communications and Technology fund was asked what stock people should avoid or short. His answer?

GeoCities

(GCTY)

. "One that strikes me as particularly absurd is GeoCities, which has about a $1 billion market value ... this looks like a company that could go to a zero."

Yesterday

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

said it would buy GeoCities for more than $2 billion. So, in a sense, GeoCities' shares will disappear. Just not quite the way Wick had in mind.

Getting it right.

The Economist

finally figured out its bubble thinking. It might be the Internet stock group after all, as opposed to the whole shooting match. That's this week's topic in my favorite weekly. (And thanks to the editors for the mention of

TheStreet.com

in one of the Internet stories!)

Shameless Self-Promotion Department.

My friends at

The Wall Street Journal

took great pains to pat themselves on the back for coming up first with the GeoCities-Yahoo! news. From what I could gather at 11 p.m. on Wednesday evening, the story was out in a few places, including the

Industry Standard

and

TSC

. The

WSJ

, saving the good stuff for the dead trees, didn't have it on their Web site until much later. Maybe they meant they were the first paper to publish the story. I feel more environmental all the time.

Super Bowl.

OK, in a tip of the hat to Contributor

Christopher Edmonds

, I will be pulling for his home team, the

Atlanta Falcons

. Chris, who recently moved from Kansas City to HotLanta is adamant that the Dirty Birds will come up victorious. It's hard to care after the

Vikings'

loss, but I'm with you Chris.