A Note To My Readers

If you have gotten this far, then you might be interested in what motivated a private investor (me) to devote so much time to writing.

In October 2000, I read an article in the Hartford Courant (owned by the Tribune Company a.k.a. L.A. Times et al) suggesting that the equity markets were nearing a bottom.  This type of stupidity was too tempting not to be answered with an Op-Ed.  Below, you will see the Op-Ed I wrote in response to the Courant's article and some communications from the Courant explaining why they would not publish my piece.

Quite frankly, this encounter with the Courant convinced me that rational intellectualism had been replaced in mainstream American life by a Politically Correct hybrid stupidity and the pabulum from self professed "experts".  Well, we can't expect from others what we won't deliver ourselves so it was time to step up to bat.

Here is my original Op-Ed:

In an age of experts, I often wonder what has become of common sense.  Matthew Lubanko’s article “Market Mayhem: Day’s Tumult” (October 13, 2000) once again provided me with a chuckle about the hindsight of expert opinion and the need to have faith in common sense. 

Without reservation, the article is a compendium of expert opinion in the form of market analysts’ interpretation of recent economic events and their consequences.  I have to take issue with these analysts and their analyses not only because market analysts are the same people who were recommending outrageously over-valued equities just a year ago but, additionally because the analyses lack the common sense of fact. 

Understatement one: “It may be too early to declare the latest round of selling as the final step in the market’s descent to the basement, analysts said.”  More to the point is the fact that the NASDAQ composite still has an average P/E (price earnings ratio) of over 100.  At its peak, the P/E was over 400 and we have all seen the dramatic losses suffered in these equity valuations with over a 40 percent loss of value from the high of 5133 to the 3000 level.  In lay terms this means that if you had $100 a year ago, today you have a bit less than $60. 

In any common sense valuation of an equity for investment purposes a P/E of 50 would be extremely aggressive, but for argument's sake let us accept a P/E of 50 as normal.  This means that a further slide of the NASDAQ from an average P/E of 100 to a P/E of 50 could take the composite from the 3000 level to the 1500 level without some very aggressive earnings growth.  Which leads us to… 

Understatement two:  “…But several bright spots appear on the horizon.  Oil priced above $30 a barrel is no longer a shock….”  The shock value of $30 a barrel oil is titillating but of very little significance.  The effect on the economy and the economy’s inability to sustain growth in the face of current energy prices is the FACT of the analysis. 

A bit of common sense might lead a person to easily discover that the United States consumes about 20 million bbl/d (barrels per day) of crude oil.  In a little over a year the price of crude oil has risen from just under $10 per barrel to around $35 per barrel.  With a little basic math we realize that about $150 billion dollars has been diverted from all other expenditures to pay for the crude oil increases alone.  When the additional cost increases for natural gas are factored in and this sum is calculated as a nominal (before inflation is factored in) percentage of the approximately $9 trillion United States GDP (Gross Domestic Product) the result is about 3%. 

If energy price increases equate to 3% of GDP and GDP was expected to grow at a rate of 5% before the increases a bit more of math would indicate a revised GDP growth rate of 2%.  After adjusting the 2% growth rate for inflation either a 0 growth or a negative growth (economic recession) is the result.   

Common sense:  The NASDAQ composite could likely sustain a P/E adjustment from 100 to 50 even with aggressive earnings growth, if energy price increases either dampen earnings growth or shrink earnings the result is that there would likely remain a longer road ahead of this economy to the bottom than the analysts are predicting.  Given these facts, the average investor should be very very cautious in the near term.    

This is an analysis of the current economic situation based on fact and while it is not fool proof, it bespeaks of common sense. 

©Daniel Sargis October 15, 2000

Here is the Courant's response:

Thank you for the oped. We prefer that local writers write on local issues, because we subscribe to so many syndicates and services that provide us with opeds from renowned experts on national and international issues. I'm sorry. 

Carolyn Lumsden

The Hartford Courant

The "renowned experts" this provincial luminary from the Courant was referring to were stock analysts employed by brokerage firms!  You know...like the analysts later barred from the security's industry for hyping stocks to please corrupt clients.  Realizing that the portfolios of the average investor were about to be torched, I again responded to the Courant:

Mr. Brian Toolan


The Hartford Courant

285 Broad Street

Hartford, CT 06115 


Dear Mr. Toolan:


It was with the mischievousness of ironic delight that I read Ms. Lumsden’s enclosed reply to my Op Ed submission.  I was originally motivated to author the submission by my frustration with the often Pollyanna(ish) and untimely opinion of the “experts” whose articles I had been reading in the press. 


To read in the Courant, among other papers, the quotes of security analysts (“experts”) that the stock market may be near the bottom or that the economy may be softening after the fact of an over 40% decline in the NASDAQ seemed to me to be of untimely usefulness to the reader and just not quite accurate. 


With an undergraduate education from Trinity College split between Enlightenment Period thought and American economic history (with healthy doses of physics, theology and philosophy thrown in) I would not ever consider myself to be anymore of an “expert” at anything than someone like the great “generalist” Benjamin Franklin (not to put myself in Franklin’s league). 


Some might think that my graduate education (MBA) from Cornell University might make me an expert in finance and business but after founding and nurturing my company since 1971, I value the broad and interconnected thought of a good “generalist” more than the often myopic and niche thinking of an “expert”. 


Far from challenging the validity of “expert” opinion, I am supporting the American tradition of the “thinker” and “generalist”.  America’s Founding Fathers more than amply proved the worth of educated generalists with varied interests who stirred healthy debate on subjects of national significance through local publications.  These great people were intellectual generalists who could transcend disciplinary bounds and apply the same logic to the necessity of nitrogen in the soil as they would to the necessity of a First Amendment.  They knew that both were necessary nutrients for the “end game” of their purposes.


Americans intentionally “caste” aside the notions of monarchy, primogeniture and entail because America is a society where the individual may rise or fall on individual merits.  For the Courant to support a system of intellectual privilege by adhering to a policy where, “We prefer that local writers write on local issues, because we subscribe to so many syndicates and services that provide us with Op Eds from renowned experts on national and international issues,” misses the target of Op Ed pages and the local public interest.   


If the Op Ed pages of the Courant are not a place for local readers to intelligently and responsibly author opinions of intellectual curiosity than it is of little wonder that so many people look outside Connecticut’s capital city as destinations of excitement and national significance. 


I respectfully leave you with two additional thoughts.  It is always a good idea to tend one’s own backyard first and as the great American educator Nicholas M. Butler so poignantly phrased it, “An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less.” 


Respectfully yours, 


Daniel Sargis

25 December 2000

To which, I received the following:

Dear Mr. Sargis:

I received a letter from you dated Dec. 25 regarding an OpEd piece you sent to The Courant that was rejected. While enjoying reading your original submission and your letter regarding the rejection, the persons you need to deal with are Carolyn Lumsden and John Zakarian, who is Editorial Page Editor. You can e-mail Zakarian at The Courant, as you did Carolyn.

Zakarian is the editor of the editorials and the letters to the editor, and reports directly to the publisher, as I do.

Good luck as you continue this intellectual joust.

Sincerely yours,

Brian Toolan

My best friend from graduate school got sick of listening to me wail about this and suggested that I submit an enhanced version of the original analysis to an Internet site...specifically EtherZone.com.  The enhanced analysis became Economic Suicide and the crew at EtherZone.com posted it. 

Well, we all know how one thing leads to another and...along with Fox News, Talk Radio and the crazy Internet, I also became a part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy!


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