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Thousands killed in Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Hundreds of bodies wash up on shore as water recedes. Hundreds more trapped in earthquake rubble and tsunami debris, entire cities destroyed, a nation in shock. Yeah, but HOW’S THE STOCK MARKET?

There’s Gold In That Thar Earthquake

Thousands killed in Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Hundreds of bodies wash up on shore as water recedes. Hundreds more trapped in earthquake rubble and tsunami debris, entire cities destroyed, a nation in shock. Yeah, but HOW’S THE STOCK MARKET?

The Japanese stock market fell five percent shortly after Monday’s opening. The Bank of Japan moved quickly, dumping 12 trillion yen (1,742,060,000,000 Mexican pesos) into the money market to try and achieve stability. Sound familiar? At least their government is reacting to a natural disaster, not the reckless behavior of a bunch of luxury-addicted Wall Street speculators.

Investors and unemployed slackers–I mean, day traders–throughout the U.S. absorbed the news and developments over the weekend, and took action immediately by launching millions of internet searches to try and discover how they can possibly make some money off these twin tragedies.

“As to Friday’s earthquake and tsunami and the current situation of the power plants in Fukushima, in the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan in that period,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a televised address on Sunday. Did you get that? The worst crisis for Japan since World War II, when we flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the atomic bomb. This is heavy shit.

The death toll, according to Japanese officials, will likely top 10,000. That’s three times as many Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. The devastation and tragedy of the tsunami cannot be overstated. And this is a highly advanced nation we’re talking about, the world’s third-largest economy, not a bunch of yurt-dwelling bug eaters in some global backwater. And yet the biggest headlines this Monday morning announce the 6.2 percent drop in the Nekkei 225 Stock Average.

“Our view of Japan is still the same,” said David Herro, chief investment officer of International Equities at Harris Associates in Chicago, in a story in Bloomberg Businessweek. “We’re still excited about the Japanese equity market.” Well, I’m so glad you’re still excited, David! Wow, if those nuclear plants go into full meltdown, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to pounce on Tokyo Electric when it bottoms out. So what’s a few hundred deaths from radiation poisoning if it will fatten your quarterly statement?

It’s human nature to profit off someone else’s misfortune. Taking satisfaction from the suffering of others. The Germans call it schadenfreude. I call it day trading. In this moment in history when our thoughts and efforts should be concentrated toward assisting our fellow humans across the Pacific, millions of Americans are squealing with glee over the investment opportunities provided by these terrible acts of nature. I suppose it’s just a matter of time before Hank Jr. or Toby Keith writes a song about it.

Day traders (code for unemployed parasites with no discernible talents or skills) spend untold hours slavering over their laptops, pulling profits out of thin air as they buy stocks and futures on margin (which means gambling way more money than they actually have), hoping to show a profit by the end of the trading day. I know people who have made millions doing this (and then lost it). It takes a lot of research, nerves of steel, and intense focus. What it doesn’t take is any tangible contribution to society from the trader. Day traders bring nothing to the table; online investing simply allows a certain sector of financial remoras to slurp tidbits of money off the always-swimming Great White Stock Market. It’s a form of capitalism, I guess, but it’s also an opportunistic and parasitic way of obtaining money.

The day traders’ host organism, Wall Street, is the fattest shark in the water. When the Japanese stock market predictably dropped a few points on the first full business day after the tsunami/earthquake disasters, all eyes were on the NYSE. No one was surprised; the Japanese market’s hiccup followed a natural trend. It seemed callous to me that the Nekkei didn’t close down for at least a day after the tsunami, but like Gordon Gekko said, money never sleeps, pal.

The stock market functions as a litmus test of consumer and investor confidence in the businesses being publicly traded, and the very idea that a company’s “worth” is determined by the actions of investors gives the market way more power than it should have. I don’t claim to understand the ins and outs of the financial world (I’m the guy who tends to draw to the inside straight), but my ignorance is matched by my disgust at the craven greed that asserts itself so nakedly when disaster strikes.

The sheer avarice that is the lifeblood of our nation will ensure that the NYSE and NASDAQ will see but a minor blip from the events in Japan. Investors will quickly identify the stocks and commodities they can exploit from Japan’s tragedy, and many will make a swift and tidy sum by simply making some clever moves in their portfolio. The images of utter destruction, hundreds of bodies floating in the advancing flood, the grief-stricken survivors in shock over losing their homes and their families will never enter their minds as they raise an ironic cup of sake to toast their ability to capitalize on the financial fallout from Japan.

So many bodies are piling up that officials have run out of body bags. Hello, investment opportunity! Instead of finding someone who’s upside-down on their mortgage and buying their home in a short sale, you might be able to make a killing by simply investing in commercial grade Chinese vinyl. And think of the paperwork you’ll save!

Here’s a suggestion: if you’re an investor or day trader or some other kind of market playa, why not don a strap-on conscience and use your shrewd investment knowledge to create some funds that can be used to help mitigate the suffering in Japan? Do that voodoo that you do to pull money out of thin air, and put it towards a humanitarian effort. Hey, it might even feel good. Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s tax-deductible.

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  1. Welcome to business globalization. Think about what you’re ranting about for a second. Yes, this is a huge tragedy. Yes, people are dying. Yes, markets are scrabbling much like those nuclear technicians are, to salvage what’s left. Would you rather that the savvy investors not hedge or seek ways of salvaging the markets? It’s a moral dilemma from hell. But the alternative is to have a market meltdown that plunges global markets back into the abyss. Would you rather that happen while we pray for relieve in Japan? Doesn’t do much good, if you ask me. What your article suggests is that these day traders are indifferent to the situation. That’s a very large assumption.

  2. Bob: I am a farmer. The only time we make money is when someone else who grows the same crop has a failure. Gets froze out. Hail beats the berries to ground. Bugs eat them. You can’t find pickers in a recession with ten percent unemployment.

    Somewhere cotton didn’t grow last year, and so US cotton farmers got the highest prices for cotton ever. By double. Libya goes to revolution and Europe has many refineries built to use Libyan crude only. They also have the long memory of Islamic occupation of southern Europe for 700 years. Libyans remember the cruelty and malice of Italian occupation. It might not be “fair” but don’t expect a “no fly” zone, or NATO help for unknown muslim revolutionaries. Europe needs someone in charge of Libya who knows how to produce, sell and ship oil. And oil is over $100 a barrel. You know who is going to prevail and you know there is nothing about the conclusion to like. Either way.

    There is a worry that farm land prices in the midwest are too high due to soybean and corn prices being high. Maybe there is a “bubble” for farmland debt about to pop. Japan has yet to recover from their real estate bubble popping. You wonder if their government has the borrowing power to assist a recovery.

    A trader can only make money when there is movement in the market. A trader makes money when the market falls, and when the market rises. They make little when the market is stable. Commodity trader, stock trader, hedge fund trader, day trader. They only can profit with movement in the market. And without traders, how can you have a market for capital??

    The real eye opener for the talking heads of US news purveyors in Japan, is that there is no whining, no entitlement demands, no crush of humanity for food, water, and shelter. The whole of the deal is organized, lined up, people wait patiently and for the most part, everyone gets something. And many lost all they had in the world. No riots. No looting. No political demonstrations. A quiet determination to prevail and get on with clean up and rebuilding. The benefit of little diversity, I guess. 600,000 Koreans, 25,000 Ainu, and the rest Japanese. A cohesive society that has faced bad times before with respect and dignity, and even with the disappointment of sure protections from tsunamis and flooding having failed completely, will someday have only a memory of the “big one.”

    The lesson we in the US should take from the Japanese experience is that two decades of “stimulus” spending on tsunami protections, flood protections, did little in the end to blunt this one. 9.0 on the Richter is a monster number. Instead, the talking heads here are worried about radiation and will it come to the US. Probably not as much coming this way as the “downwinders” got at Moses Lake, Spokane, or St. George, Utah, on a regular basis, from the US Govt.

    And, the cynic in me hopes the Canadians can fire up some more sawmills and more logging to help Japan rebuild. I know by the time all the eco-obseesives in the US are placated, the Japanese will have grown the timber to rebuild. Tough to appreciate the scope and extent of a disaster across the sea when you are as egocentric as the average American. The down side of diversity. I wish the Japanese well and hope that we can help them in some way.

  3. And here I thought those tsunamis were caused by some unseen sea demon shoving a trident up Neptune’s butt…

  4. Glad to provide an outlet for you to dump your rage and hatred, um, “Enlightened.” Thanks for reading!