first majestic silver

How, Indeed?

September 7, 1998

I was preparing a column about CNBC last week when the following message arrived via e-mail from my friend and colleague, Michael Belkin:

"Belkin on CNBC Bubblevision? Today at 3:40 EST? How'd that happen?"

How, indeed?

Belkin, a New York-based financial consultant, is one of the gloomiest prognosticators in print. His newsletter is nearly as scary as my Sunday column, and for that reason I turn to it often -- especially when my common sense has been momentarily impaired by the occasional, unwonted twinge of bullishness.

Now, here is Belkin on national television, telling a million CNBC viewers to screw down the hatches and get ready for a financial monsoon. The Dow Industrial Average has only begun to fall, he warns, and it is likely to plunge another 20% or more before finding anything resembling a possible bottom.

Ironically, the column I started to write was going to say that the opinions of a Wall Street renegade like Michael Belkin would never make it onto CNBC, at least not in time and with sufficient emphasis to save the widows and orphans whose savings this bear market is about to devour.

Unfortunately CNBC didn't allow Belkin enough time to elucidate a daunting thesis he developed in a recent newsletter.

What he wrote was that an economic implosion much like the one that has suffocated Asia is brewing in our own back yard.

Belkin notes that Canadian businesses have been borrowing vast quantities of U.S. dollars, simply because those dollars have been so very easy to obtain.

Now, however, with their currency collapsing relative to ours, their debts are almost certain to become a crushing burden. This is a frightening prospect, considering that Canada is our largest trading partner.

With such troubles festering nearby, and stock averages around the world free falling more or less routinely on most days, it's no wonder guys like Belkin are starting to get a little respect and some air time, even if the news media keep dossiers on them in their "CRACKPOT" file.

I'm probably in that file myself, having been banned from CNBC two years ago. I appeared on the show after accurately predicting in my newsletter that the pumped-up shares of Yahoo! would collapse soon after the company went public.

Only in the blithe, helium-rich air that seems to engulf the CNBC newsroom could such a forecast have been regarded as prescient. Although Yahoo! had yet to make a dime, investors valued the company at more than $1 billion on the day of its initial public offering.

The faux pas that got me eighty-sixed was to have said, in response to a question about my extreme bearishness, that it was a good way to sell newsletters.

The remark was facetious, and I quickly qualified it as such; as readers of this column will attest, I am surely no bear poseur. But no amount of brown-nosing would get me reinstated.

Thus banished from the airwaves, I tuned to Judge Judy, Jenny Jones and Jerry Springer during trading hours.

To my surprise, my long-range forecasts began to improve. For instance, I "knew," and wrote, that the Fed would not raise interest rates, even though the supposed likelihood of this was arguably the dominant theme of CNBC's business coverage during the last three years.

During that time, I occasionally tuned soundlessly to CNBC, so that I could watch the ticker tape. Even without the sound it was plain to see they were moving toward a show-biz model.

One by one, the on-camera heavyweights quietly disappeared, like University professors during Stalin's purge.Gone was Neil Cavuto, whose hardball interviews had helped give CNBC an edge. Then the redoubtable Karen Gibbs vanished, leaving a gaping hole in the network's coverage of fixed-income markets.

And now, crowning CNBC's segue into showbiz is their rising star on the exchange floor, Maria Bartiromo, whose gamin looks have made her the reigning poster girl of the Internet's financial newsgroups and earned her the sobriquet "The Money Honey."

She's not dumb, but it remains painfully obvious after a year on the job that she came to it knowing almost nothing about the stock market, and that she has not learned much since.

To make matters worse, the guy she replaced, Roy Blumberg, was one of the savviest market analysts ever to find his way into television. His unheralded departure was like losing Sam Donaldson at The White House, only to see him replaced by Kathy Lee Crosby.

While I doubt that CBNC's front office conspires to suppress gloomy news, the all-day-long show's preference for upbeat stories and physically attractive faces is intrinsic to the medium.

Knowing this, it is Jimmy Rogers' genius to wear a bow tie when he is interviewed -- with increasing frequency of late -- as one of CNBC's two token bears. (Michael Metz is the other.)

John Murphy, a widely respected technical analyst who also left CNBC during the still-unacknowledged purge, implicitly confirmed the network's for the negative when I spoke with him at a recent investors' conference in San Francisco. Murphy said the more bearish his presentation on a given day, the less air time he received.

Investors should remind themselves that TV's primary mission is not to enlighten or entertain, but to attract an audience that advertisers will pay through the nose to reach.

With a bear market almost certainly upon us, those advertisers -- mostly brokerage houses and mutual funds -- can rely on CNBC to calm the herd and keep it pointed toward the greener grass of a mythical Dow 10,000.

But I cannot imagine what they will find to talk about if the months-long bear market stretches into years.

When the Dow is trading 2,000 points lower, will their A-list pundits say, as one did last week, that "strategists are a bit more confident with stocks at these levels." And will virtually every interview continue to end with CNBC's signature question: What is the one stock you would buy?

It could get tiresome quickly, especially if nine out of ten stocks are falling, as one should expect in this bear market.

These days, from the bear's perspective nearly every word uttered on CNBC sounds like nonsense, some of it possibly dangerous to your financial health.

"Keep your powder dry," said one buy-side mouthpiece the other day. Taken literally, this tidbit of wisdom implies that every investor should liquidate his portfolio and use the proceeds to buy stocks when they are more reasonably priced.

Can you see the fallacy of this zero-sum strategy, assuming millions of investors implement it in the coming weeks?

Asia is in a depression, Japan's banks are tottering and Russia is verging on anarchy. U.S. corporate earnings have been falling for the last three quarters and are about to make it four.

We are in a bear market now, and any investor who believes a puny 20% selloff has ended it is going to get crushed. I can say that because I do not make my living from advertising revenues.

I can also say that, if you want to hold onto what remains of your nest egg, you should tune out CNBC and subscribe to any of the dozen or so newsletters that saw the July/August blood bath coming.

The CNBC pundits surely did not.

Goldschläger and Goldwasser are liqueurs containing pure gold flakes.
Top 5 Best Gold IRA Companies

Gold Eagle twitter                Like Gold Eagle on Facebook