It’s been a long week. I probably don’t have to tell you that.
For me, the highs and lows of the past few days were more than just quantitative matters, they were matters of the heart.
As Lou Grant would have said, “I hate matters of the heart”.
The week in question started on a real high note, as I watched my son graduate from Army Basic Training last Wednesday and escalated as we were able to bring him home with us to start his junior year of college. So, while stocks were just beginning to really shed some real market cap, I didn’t mind too much. Joy can make you forget such mundane things like skyrocketing paper losses.
In fact, despite being armed to the teeth with my traveling trading desk, after a few hours in the car on the first part of the trip down to South Carolina, I decided to spare my lap the deep thermal burns, shut down the streaming CNBC feed and give it a rest.
Of course, at the time, the market was up reasonably nicely and I had a feeling of calm and peace. So much so, I didn’t even care that much when I learned that the market eventually turned for the worse.
The next two days I was essentially cut off from any timely market related news. Although I did prove to my Sugar Momma that I wan’t addicted to the electronic market tether, I did find myself breaking into lots of cold sweats and sucking the residual sugar off of discarded gum wrappers.
For some bizarre reason, when my oldest son, who now follows the markets tracking his undiversified portfolio of one stock informed me that the market was down 500 points last Thursday, I took it in stride, after all, I had my whole family in tow, reminiscent of long car rides together 15 or more years earlier.
Not only did I take the news in stride, but I actually got a kick out of that news, even though I’m not a short seller. Despite the fact that I exercise a covered call strategy on nearly every holding and despite the fact that the bids on most of those call options were close to zero, I still felt a rush.
For me, the exaggerated bounces in the market never get old. They’re always exciting, even if I can’t find a way to take advantage of them.
Imagine then how excited I must have been on Monday. Can you believe losing even more than on the previous Thursday? If Dow down 500 points is good for the perverse part of my being, how great is 600 points?
When I was younger, I used to measure money in terms of how many color TV’s you could buy with that money. Our family got its first color TV back in 1964, just in time to watch the Yankees – Cardinals World Series. I remember spending most of my time trying to get the colors just right and trying to find the perfect antenna position. I usually ended up being the antenna and the grass usually ended up being blue.
After all, for $500 were you expecting perfection?
At Szelhamos’ highest earnings year, I calculated that he could have bought 50 color TV’s or one each week. Back then I was too unsophisticated to factor in taxes and things like present day value, or concepts like “constant dollars”.
Now that I’m older I don’t think in such childish and simplistic terms. Instead, I now calculate a days’ gain or loss on the basis of how many Szelhamos years worth of earnings it constituted. For example, instead of saying that Monday resulted in a paper loss of 200 color TV’s at 1964 prices, I would be much more inclined to say that the losses covered 4 years worth of peak earnings.
What a rush, albeit a downward spiralling rush to poverty.
While the market was going down, despite an occasional tease upward, the joy still overcame all.
Today, the story was quite different. This time, instead of having headed down south for a bit of happiness, I had to trek North back home to New York for a bit of sadness, as word had come of the death of a woman very dear to me. Not an actual relative, but very much a second mother to myself and sister.
A Holocaust survivor, a refugee from communism, she started a new life with her family and friends in America.Always giving, always smiling and door always open. As much as joy can help you to forget, sadness can help you remember.
But in her case all of the memories were wonderful, but unfortunately they had grown old and increasingly dim, until a touching eulogy reminded us that in everyday actions by her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren those memories live on. Sometimes that memory will take the form of a strudel.
And that’s alright, too.
As the days’ drive to New York began, I was in the passenger seat, once again with full electronic gear at the ready. Pleased to see the market hold its 200 point gain once again those feelings of calm and peace returned, this time though looking at how many TV’s I could buy with those paper gains.
At about 3 PM, heading from the funeral home to the cemetery, my oldest son who was in New York on a business and had joined with us, turned to me and calmly let me know that the market had given up all of its gains.
Serenity. Serenity now. Remember. It never gets old. I keep telling myself I love the violent and unexpected moves.
Now, I also love Ben Bernanke as much as the next guy, but I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams what he could have said to have shaken the markets so much. Normally I’d have been home rapt on every word and nuance, but today I was left to my wonderings. Did he call Tim Geither a “pussy”? I think I’d put up 1o color TV’s at 1964 prices to have a front row seat for that cat fight.
And I like both of them.
Finally arriving at the cemetery the rain was pouring upon us. Briefly it stopped and someone remarked “What a miracle, God is smiling on us”. Minutes later the rain came back with a vengeance and that same person took the opportunity to say “What a miracle, God is crying with us”.
That reminded me of something that does get old. The various talking heads that believe the viewer has no sense of history or at least no functioning memory. I like my analysts and miracles to be consistent.
But at least here the intention was good. Sun was good. Rain was good. We were celebrating a good life.
As I looked around the assembled crowd, it was no longer the elderly crowd that I remembered from my younger days. With very few exceptions, they are now gone, being replaced by newer versions of themselves.
Once back in the car, my personal market reporter, whose personal wealth may dwarf mine if the IPO market can survive the downdraft ,once again turned to me and said “Wow, the market turned it around and closed up over 420 points”.
That’s a lot of color TV’s.
Hearing that kind of news never gets old. It may not be strudel, but hearing my son deliver that news is a sign that I will never get old, rain or shine .