As spotty, shrill and vacuous as television business news can be, don't underestimate its impact on investors. Once a person hears information three times, the listener believes it to be true. By relentless repetition, television biz news cumulatively shapes the collective unconscious that drives herd mentality. Mass instinct accounts for 25% of the market's movement in sensible times; a hefty 75% during stressed, irrational phases.
That brings into focus "Bulls & Bears," the lead show in the
block of weekend business shows. The half hour is a robust discussion of Old Economy stocks in hip trader lingo. Last week, the whiz-kid panel chewed over
Johnson & Johnson
Despite the frenzied drumbeat (they must have borrowed the casino music from
), more information is packed into "Bulls & Bears" than any other business show on the tube. Company fundamentals are imparted in the cross talk at such a pace that the uninitiated require a primer to keep up. Suze Orman fans had best forget it.
No doubt, the breakneck pace and flip attitude are carried over from the rampaging bull days of Internet Era. (The show features people who also appeared on a Fox News Channel program called
. That show, a joint venture between Fox and TheStreet.com Inc., publisher of this Web site, was canceled last year.) And certainly, a younger, hipper "Wall $treet Week" audience would watch, if they could find it. In the western half of the U.S., "B&B" devotees have to be wide-eyed at 10 a.m. EDT on Saturday to glimpse the gang.
The "Bulls & Bears" hostess, Brenda Buttner, may lack the Meg Ryan-adorability of Martha MacCallum over at
but she's super smart and deft with the stopwatch. A Harvard grad and Rhodes scholar, the brassy redhead masterfully referees the panel. Given the time constraints, it's a maestro's performance. (Buttner is also a former columnist at
There's a Laurel and Hardy routine in the exchange between panelists
Gary B. Smith
Chartman) and Pat Dorsey (columnist for Morningstar.com). Here's a sampling of their comic relief, interpreted and paraphrased.
After Gary highlighted Johnson & Johnson, the stock was promptly dissed by Dorsey. Defensive, affable Gary piped up, "Well, it's doing better than
." Dorsey, the voice of reason, snapped, "One month makes for fundamentals?"
Later, in the stock-picking segment, the Chartman voted for
. Dorsey's rapid retort: "Makes chips for telecom. Need I say more?"
OK, it isn't "Saturday Night Live," but it colors up gray matter and allows intellectual play, a rarity on the tube these days. Moreover, the natural flow keenly outstrips the forced humor of ol' Lou Rukeyser on "Wall $treet Week."
"Bulls & Bears" also scores high on graphics. The deep-dimensional charts are only surpassed by its robotic metallic bull, cranking and clanking. One flaw: Where's a bear of equal might? In these dark, dreary times, a scowling and growling white-fanged grizzly is appropriate.
And although there's an echo of accountability for the stock picks from the previous week, viewers deserve more. The truth is that all these business news shows need an electronic scorecard (like baseball) under every talking head to tally his or her hits and misses. That way, viewers can easily identify the pros from the self-promoting windbags. An abundance of the latter clutters the screen.
Of course, there's plenty of critical information investors won't ever learn from "Bulls & Bears." There's no time for an exploration (even mention) of the Credit Suisse First Boston alleged kickback scandal and ramifications for Silicon Valley, and tech companies in general.
And in spite of earnings talk, there's no stab at "pro forma" earnings (those incomplete "happy" reports dispatched in press releases).
It's also shabby to "ooh" and "ahh" over last week's strange spike up in the market without reference to whom the buyers were. Did the specialists or market makers suddenly move in big money?
But, hey, it's summer. Disgruntled investors might as well kick back and watch television while waiting for a "killer app" to spark the
. As a surface skimmer, "Bulls & Bears" earns four stars out of five.
Martha Smilgis is a journalist and novelist who writes "The Outraged Investor" column for The San Francisco Examiner. She doesn't hold positions in any of the stocks mentioned in the above column.