Millennial Insanity

December 28, 1999

Murphy's Law will be at full strength when the clock strikes midnight on Friday. For the guidance of investors and market-watchers, here are my predictions of the top U.S. news stories in 2000 as Millennial insanity threatens to lurch into high gear:

* Yahoo, whose shares currently sell for nearly 1,500 times earnings, buys Genentech with the goal of developing a drug to help investors live long enough to see the day when it and other dot.com companies become solidly profitable.

* Microsoft is forced to idle its Redmond campus for a month when 1,600 millionaire employees fail to show up for work on Tuesday following Labor Day. By week's end a third of them trickle back, but most of the rest are reportedly either skiing in Bariloches, fly-fishing in Alaska or hunting shark off the Great Barrier Reef.

* Time magazine's latest "Man of the Year," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, resigns when it becomes apparent the Internet bookseller's losses over the next several years will greatly exceed the $350 million in red ink expected for 1999. Bezos retires to a dairy farm in Woodstock, Vermont, safely beyond the reach of recruiters and venture capitalist eager to lure him back to the business world.

* A bunch of Texas plaintiff's lawyers launch what turns out to be the hottest IPO of them all, sue_the_bastards.com, a Web-based incubator for class-action lawsuits. The company later becomes the first dot.comfirm to pay a dividend after it extracts a $20 billion settlement from stadium vendors who are found guilty of gouging customers for beer, peanuts and hot dogs since the late 1960s.

* CNBC anchor Ron Insana receives the Pulitzer Prize for his hard-hitting series explaining why Microsoft, Cisco Systems and America Online would report no earnings whatsoever if they were to properly expense employee stock options that now total $119.3 billion. The award is rescinded a week later, however, when it is learned that the facts buttressing Insana's supposed scoop were known more than a year earlier to virtually every Internet user who had ever logged onto an investor chat group.

* Hillary Clinton trounces Rudolph Guiliani in the New York Senatorial race and moves one step closer to the Oval Office, boosted byeleventh-hour revelations that Yankee second baseman and World Series hero Chuck Knoblauch is the love child of her alleged tryst with 1970s Yankee great Thurman Munson.

* Husband Bill makes plans to leave office at the top of his game, signing a $40 million television deal to host a revival of the popular1950s game show, "To Tell the Truth." Regular panelists are toinclude Kevin Starr, George Stephanopoulos, Nina Totenberg and James Carville.

* The president of AT&T's Universal credit card division is indicted for loan-sharking when it is discovered that the fine print makes it all but impossible for a customer to pay off a 14% loan drawn on a Master Card "convenience check."

* The mother of all computer viruses takes root in America's PCs, bringing business to a standstill for several days. The FBI later traces the virulent dose to a batch of counterfeit CDs mailed out by a hacker posing as America Online. At his sentencing, the felon confesses he was attempting to drive his old employer's share price into the ground after being fired for repeatedly smoking clove cigarettes in his cubicle.

* Major stock indices end the year with gains averaging 30%, but the entire amount is attributable to increases in the price of just four stocks -- Cisco, America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo! 11,247 other issues finish down on the year, more than half of them near 12-month lows.

* The collectibles world is rocked when a Pokemon card fetches $1.3 million at a New York auction, easily eclipsing the record $640,000 paid a few years earlier for a Honus Wagner baseball card. A laser glitch is said to have caused the Japanese "Togopie" card to have been etched with a faint 3-D image resembling Hirohito.

* Day trading becomes a national obsession, with a reported 32 million households paying to receive real-time data from the stock exchanges. Productivity in the service sector drops 2.4% and trading losses mount into the tens of billions of dollars, but they are offset by big portfolio gains in Microsoft, Cisco, America Online and Yahoo!, as well as by substantial increases in residential property values.

* The Presidency pivots not on the boring non-issues the press has spoon-fed the public ad nauseam, but on a severe and genuine crisis. Y2K bugs have disrupted shipments of coal and oil, pushing the price of the latter to $73 a barrel by the November election. Voters embrace the one candidate who has come through severe crisis intact, electing Sen. John McCain, the GOP candidate, by an overwhelming margin.

The purity of gold is measured in carat weight.

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