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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