A Magazine of American Culture
Vol. 22, No. 10, October 1998
WALL STREET BOOM, MAIN STREET DOOM
By Bob Djurdjevic
General Section: VITAL SIGNS; Sub-section: ECONOMICS
America's economy is in great shape, government officials and the establishment media are telling us in typical self-congratulatory messages. "Just look at the stockmarket," some say, pointing at the record-breaking Raging Bull of Wall Street which smashed through the 9,100 Dow Jones Industrials barrier in April as if it were a matador's cape, and set a new 12-month high of 9,377 in July. To such "bulls" this writer says, "Bull!" Using today's stockmarket as a barometer of the U.S. economy is like citing the Las Vegas odds to gauge the health of college education.
Once upon a time, the stockmarket may have had some, however tenuous, connections with the fundamentals of the companies whose shares it traded. But that was back in "the good old days" of the pre-New World Order America. Today's stock exchanges have become almost totally decoupled from the economic reality of the companies whose shares they trade. Instead, they are Casinos at which the Big Business elite do what "Joe 6-pack" does when and if he can afford a trip to Las Vegas. Both play the odds on whim and emotion; the former wearing pin-striped suits; the latter in jeans and T-shirts.
Modern Wall Street is a game of cashflows, not that of GDPs (Gross Domestic Products). So it is a market ruled by supply and demand. The more money is available for Wall Street to invest, the higher the Dow Jones matadors' capes will fly. The boost which Wall Street received from the Asian crisis last fall, for example, serves as a case in point. The money pulled out of Asia by the global "Joe 6-packs" washed up on America's shores.
But possibly the biggest sustained boost which the Bull of Wall Street received came from the pension funds. Stocks were once considered as too risky for people to gamble their retirement incomes on. No longer. Throwing caution to the wind, large pension funds - from state employees, to labor unions, to Fortune 500 companies'... - entered the Wall Street Casino, increasing its money supply and boosting stock prices.
Those who claim that stockmarket prices and the national GDPs are somehow linked to each other are creating an illusion of prosperity. They are a part of a ruse; a brainwashing effort to help the Wall Street Hoover to suck the savings out of the Main Street suckers' mattresses. Which, in turn, could lead to an even higher concentration of power in Wall Street's pockets. In other words, to increased PLUTOCRACY!
Let's consider some aspects of America's economic reality. America is rapidly becoming the World's Biggest Jail. Nearly 600,000 able-bodied Americans are languishing in the nation's prisons rather than producing in the country's factories or offices, according to a Justice Department study, cited in an Apr. 27 Wall Street Journal blurb. That's up 43 percent from mid-1989, roughly the time the new New World Order was being born. So any time you look at the supposedly low U.S. unemployment statistics which the establishment media feed to us, remember to tack on another 600,000 people who may be willing, but are not able to work.
And then there are those Americans who are willing and able to work, and are not (yet) incarcerated, but who are still prevented from working...
"Ameritech set to ax 5,000 jobs," read an Associated Press headline on April 15. "Intel to slash workforce by 4%," screamed an 11-inch front-page story in the Arizona Republic the same day. But those numbers are just a pre-game warm-up compared to the jobs which the Fortune 500 giants, such as AT&T, Kodak, Xerox and others are slashing these days. Just as IBM did a few years before, when it shrank its payroll from 406,000 in 1985, to 220,000 in 1994.
Of course, there is nothing new about that. The Fortune 500 companies have been downsizing for the last two decades. In the 1980s alone, they dumped 3.6 million jobs like so much excess baggage. And they shed another million of them in the first half of the 1990s. The above headlines signal an acceleration of the trend in the second half of the decade. No wonder the Fortune 500 employment peaked in 1979!
The Fortune 500 companies' global employment accounts for a mere 17 percent of the total U.S. jobs. Yet the Fortune 500 global revenues represent nearly two-thirds of the U.S. GDP. Which means that the American industrial elites' financial power by far exceeds its presence on America's Main Streets. And since money means power in plutocratic systems, it can also mean power to dupe the American people. Enter the stock buybacks...
One way Wall Street creates an illusion of economic prosperity is through stock buybacks. A Business Week columnist alleged in an April 13 story that "the (stock) buyback boom is mostly a boon." And it is. For the top executives of the nation's largest companies and their Wall Street cronies. As for the rest of the Americans, it is a scam; a con, a Ponzi scheme - take your pick.
Here's a simple question: How many Main Street jobs did Corporate America create by spending $180 billion (a Business Week figure) in 1997 buying back its stock? Answer: Zero! In other words, more than a dozen smaller European countries'-worth of GDPs have been thrown into the Wall Street Hoover without creating a single product or a job!? And that's economic prosperity? Frankly, that sounds more like financial perversion.
Ah, but some "experts" quoted in the Business Week's story argued that stock buybacks were a way big companies, like IBM, return cash to "millions of shareholders" who "get money going... to thousands of Yahoos." The statement is pure and undiluted hogwash. First, because any company management which admits to having excess cash (as IBM did in January, for example) which it wants to return to shareholders - is by definition lacking the creativity and entrepreneurship needed to succeed in business. Its shareholders should dump such a Board right away before they give the entire store away, not just some "excess cash."
Second, there is no evidence to support the Business Week source's claim that IBM's stock buyback money ended up in Yahoo's IPO shareholders' pockets. And even if some did, why is the IBM Board using its shareholders' money to fund competitive start-ups? Why is it not investing it to further IBM interests? So even if true, would this not be, therefore, betrayal of IBM directors' fiduciary duties?
Third, the statement is hogwash because it is not supported by the facts. The stock buyback money isn't going to "millions of shareholders." Less than one-third of Americans play at the Wall Street Casino despite its long "bull run" and decades of financial hype. Of those who are foolish enough to challenge the "house," only about three percent of them account for three-quarters of the individual portfolios' value.
It is also factually unsupportable because even those three percent of individual shareholders' portfolios fade in comparison to those owned by institutions. The major stockmarket players are the Wall Street cronies of the "blue chip" companies' CEOs. In IBM's case, institutional investors own for more than half of its shares and for a huge chunk of the stock's trading volume. So Wall Street institutions are much more likely to profit from stock buybacks than are the typical "buy and hold"-type Main Street investors.
The latter group are actually the patsies who pay for the privilege of watching the Big Money changing pockets. Kind of like the tennis match spectators' heads turning left and right, as Wall Street's "buy side" and its "sell side" trade shots over the NYSE "Intranet" using the listed company's cash as the ball.
IBM's stock, for example, has more than doubled in price since September 1996, even though most of its business fundamentals are either down or declining. Like a hot air balloon, the Big Blue shares kept rising on Wall Street's hot air-fueled forecasts, and on IBM's $20 billion-and-counting share repurchase program. Just in case the magnitude of this Big Blue scam is lost on some readers, that's about four Albanian GDPs-worth. [In late April, IBM's Board approved an additional $3.5 billion for stock buybacks].
All of which is creating a scene fit for theatre of the absurd. IBM reported in mid-April that its first quarter 1998 earnings were down 13 percent (down 18 percent adjusted for stock buybacks and lower tax rates); that its equity was down 13 percent since the end of 1996, while its debt surged by 55 percent; and that its cashflow was a negative $1.7 billion. Yet Wall Street responded to such bad news by bidding up the price of the Big Blue stock to an all-time high of $120 per share!?
Even I, a 30-year veteran of the computer industry, was left speechless. But none of the establishment media expressed a surprise, much less shock, at such an incongruity. In a perverted market that Wall Street has become, evidently even soaring prices on plunging profits don't raise any eyebrows anymore. But they do confirm our cashflow theory - that today's stockmarket is no longer related to the economic performances of the companies whose shares it trades.
So what's our government doing to protect the small investor from such Big Business scams? In a word - nothing. In fact, one can make a case that it is aiding and abetting the Wall Street and Big Business con artists. When Congress passed the law last year lowering the capital gains tax, it provided an incentive for stock buybacks. The companies, like IBM, can now argue that they are returning cash to shareholders in a way which is more beneficial to them than would be by increasing the dividends, which are now taxed at a higher rate.
Of course, dividends would have benefited ALL shareholders, including the "buy and hold" Main Street-types, while the stock buybacks reward only those former owners who choose to sell their shares to the company. But fairness and egalitarianism have never been a strong suits of Wall Street or Big Business.
Nor, as we now see, of our Congress, either. They collect Main Street votes and taxes, then vote Wall Street interests. It's another act in our theatre of the absurd. Its title could be Perversion of Democracy.
"Perversion of the Individual" could be the title of the next act in the New World Order's theatre of the absurd. Fortune 500 executives, who were once solid citizens; honorable and moral people; many strong believers in Christian values; become corrupted with Wall Street's money, and start to engage in self-dealing. To the tune of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars (each). Enter insider trading... the ultimate Wall Street/Big Business Nirvana.
It goes like this. A "blue chip" company buys back its stock while its top executives (who made the stock buyback decision) exercise their stock options (read "sell" as they order the company to "buy"). That's like buying from your self - and at inflated prices and huge profits (since executive stock options come at deep discounts relative to market prices). Incest? Maybe on America's Main Street. But not on Wall Street. Wall Street is well past incest, and into cloning of the next generation of moral degenerates.
No, I am not talking only about IBM chairman's $91.5 million which he took home in 1997 as direct compensation, according to a New York Times Apr. 5 report. Nor about Walt Disney's Michael Eisner, who got about $576 million last year, according to the Washington-based Multinational Monitor ($226 million of it in stock options value, even though his company's return was 29% lower than that of its peer group - per the New York Times). I am also thinking of the "little guys," the mere corporate vice presidents, who profited to the tune of millions of dollars each from insider trading in 1997.
It didn't take long for the once pristine Big Blue insiders to take a clue from their new chairman's behavior that the time of Greed had arrived at Armonk, as it had elsewhere in Corporate America. In the last 18 months, the period of unprecedented IBM hype and nearly $11 billion in stock buybacks, the insiders sold some $78 million-worth of the Big Blue stock, mostly by exercising their stock options, for a $34 million pretax gain. So as IBM was buying big time, insiders were selling big time.
Meanwhile, there has not been a single IBM executive who had bought shares of the company in the three quarters between July 1, 1997 and March 31, 1998 (after having talked up the stock price). Whatever happened to the old adage, "putting your money where you mouth is?" AWOL at Armonk?
How is such self-dealing possible? Guess who appointed all three IBM directors whom the Board elected to the Executive Compensation Committee? I won't insult your intelligence by answering this rhetorical question explicitly. So Perversion of Corporate Governance could be the title of the final, and a rather sad, act played out at the Wall Street/New World Order's theatre of the absurd.
"In an almost inevitable irony," wrote John Gray in False Dawn, "Karl Marx' theory of historical inevitability has been taken up by a new breed of social engineers, ensconced in the International Monetary Fund, the US State Department, Western European governments and the editorial offices of most western newspapers." In other words, today's New World Order's "free market globalism" is merely another mutation of Marxism. It's a "red" sheep in a "blue chip" wolf's clothing. Communism was a dictatorship of the proletariat. Globalism is a dictatorship of capital. But both are dictatorships! And both ideologies have been hatched and crafted in the same mints - the boardrooms of the world's top bankers and industrialists. Both depended on corruption of the Moral Man by material means as a means of enslaving and destroying him.
At the start of the century, it was Lenin and his Bolsheviks who tried to destroy an ancient Christian culture (Russian), and who snuffed out tens of millions of human lives in the name of materialistic communism. Today, it is the multinational corporations that are the ruthless soldiers of the globalist Wall Street elite. For the time being anyway, they only fire their workers by the millions, instead of firing at them as the materialistic Marxists did to their enemies.
But do you really believe that a leopard can change its spots? If not, is there any wonder that a Wall Street boom may spell a Main Street doom?
Bob Djurdjevic heads up Annex Research (www.djurdjevic.com) and Truth in Media (www.beograd.com/truth).
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