Struggling for Calm

October 15, 2001

TRADING NOTES: Anthrax murmurs swept from New York into the heartland on Friday, disrupting the Englewood, CO, post office that processes out-of-state mail eventually delivered to my neighborhood, among others. There are still no conclusive details, but it appears that an envelope containing a suspicious white powder turned up there; as of this writing the substance had not been identified. The news reached me by way of my wife, who was tuned to CNN at the same time I was watching a CNBC-fixated monitor at my Market Wise office. CNBC was well on top of the situation in New York, where an NBC newsroom was ordered sealed off after an employee was diagnosed with skin anthrax. But they seemed to have little knowledge of Englewood's problems -- or if they did, it was shunted into the background by the much higher-profile case in Manhattan, which had Tom Brokaw as the intended recipient of a potentially lethal dose. By dinner time, Denver-area news shows were sufficiently cool-headed to devote ample time to the matter of whether Brian Griese's sore shoulder would prevent him from starting for the Broncos this Sunday..

We'd been warned earlier in the week by the FBI that some sort of attack might occur, and soon. The Bureau made a somewhat cryptic announcement to that effect, warning us to be on ever vigilant. Whether we are indeed ready for anything is doubtful, since few American households have the means or knowledge to cope with an anthrax assault. But to the extent the attack came on Friday, and broadened to include a New York Times reporter as of this writing, its ability to inspire fear seemingly had been blunted by the low-level expectfulness encouraged in us by the FBI.

Once again, Wall Street could probably take some of the credit for mitigating any broad impulse toward panic. The Dow Industrials finished down 66 points on the day, rallying back from significantly lower prices earlier in the day. For investors, it was an entirely unremarkable Friday, and its effect on millions of ticker tape-watchers could not have been other than beneficial. For, if investors could shrug off an anthrax scare with a ho-hum, then so, probably, could the rest of us.

All of which does not necessarily leave me feeling especially optimistic about the stock market in the week to come. I'd written here a couple of days ago that it would take a sustained rally through Friday to convince me we are not approaching the terminus of a garden-variety bear rally. I'm afraid that's the case, however, notwithstanding the lighter-than-usual touch I brought to Friday's Trading Notes. The nation's ability to vanquish fear is probably higher than most of us might have suspected prior to September 11. But vanquishing recession is another matter, and I seriously doubt that we have the power to resuscitate the economy by mere force of will. For even if we could exhort companies to invest, and consumers to spend, the surplus dollars they would need to do so are not available.

It is estimated that the total amount of gold mined up to the end of 2011 is approximately 166,000 tonnes.