Here we are firmly planted in the New Year 2007, and yet the words from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 1970 Déjà Vu album run through my head: "We have all been here before, we have all been here before." The economy, the war, the government – we have all been here before.
Some things you don't mind seeing again and again, like the foggy blue photograph of the Flatiron building by Edward Steichen that hangs in my office. But some of the things you've lived through before, you wish would just go away, such as:
· The Iraq War and the president's declining popularity that recalls the Vietnam War
· The stock options backdating scandal that recalls the twisted accounting at Enron and Fannie Mae
· Details from Scooter Libby's trial that recall the Watergate, Contragate and Lewinsky investigations
· The popularity of hedge funds that recalls the build-up before the demise of the dotcoms and Long Term Capital Management
· The housing bust that recalls the regional housing busts of the 1970s, '80s and '90s, except that this one looks national
It feels like we're all stuck in a remake of "Groundhog Day." That's the Zen-like Bill Murray movie, in which his character, a cynical T.V. news reporter, re-lives the same day of his life in Punxsutawney, Pa., until he learns how to change his selfish behavior. Haven't we learned our lessons yet? Can't we stop reliving the past and waking up to the clock radio playing, "I Got You Babe", by Sonny and Cher?
It reminds me of my stint as the business editor of a daily newspaper. For three years running the week before Valentine's Day, the editor would turn to me wide-eyed during our morning editorial meeting as if he'd just thought of the greatest story idea ever: "Are you doing a story about the price of roses going up for Valentine's Day?" he would ask. The third year, I wanted to scream out loud, "No!" It was my Groundhog Day story.
I can't be the only one bored to tears by yet another story about the housing bust, painful as it is for people caught in the middle of it. I crave some new stories to read. Any new corporate successes rather than scandals out there? Will a dozen roses and a box of fancy chocolates get cheaper in the next two weeks? How about that inverted yield curve – maybe it will revert to its normal status of higher interest rates for long-term debt.
Alas, in lieu of new stories like these, the best I can do is to offer a different perspective on the same-old, same-old stories, taking my cue from a New Yorker cartoon in which one trout says to the other trout that has a fishhook stuck through its mouth: "Nice lip piercing."
The Iraq War. Unpopular wars make presidents unpopular. What Vietnam did to Presidents Johnson and Nixon, Iraq is doing to President Bush. But there's more, as financial forecaster Bob Prechter of Elliott Wave International pointed out in January 2005: "Nixon was Time’s Man of the Year (with Henry Kissinger) in 1972, … and Bush received the same distinction for 2004. As with Nixon, Bush’s re-election was accompanied by a stock market rally. The Nixon-era bounce ended in January 1973 and led to the most dramatic stock market decline since the Depression. If Bush’s star continues to follow the Nixon path, 2005 should mark the beginning of an epic political decline for the president." Perhaps President Bush should heed this parallel and find a way out of Iraq without starting another war with Iran.
Back-dating stock options. As for the depressingly regular news stories about CEOs getting caught with their hands in the stock options cookie jar, ask yourself this: What if we assume that every U.S. company is guilty of back-dating their stock options and then let the companies that aren't prove it? That would get attention in all the right places. O.K., it is un-American to assume that someone is guilty until proved innocent. Still, when the paragon of business smarts – Steve Jobs of Apple – has allegedly back-dated stock options, this cheating behavior may be much more common than we think.
Scooter Libby trial. Maybe Libby has a chance to wake up from his bad dream on this Friday's Groundhog Day. The poor man has been reliving the events of July 2003 over and over again for years now. The only hope is that, when the trial is over, the judge will fashion an outcome that creates more transparency in the way our government carries out its duties. Meanwhile, we can wonder at the irony of members of an administration that is famous for its "no leaks" policy, such as former press secretary Ari Fleischer, testifying that they selectively leaked information to the press.
Hedge funds. Let's look at the hedge funds story upside down. They are now being marketed to the masses as well as to the very rich, as the New York Times points out in a December 8, 2006, report: "Hedge funds have become the new cultural shorthand for fast money." They even have their own Hedge Funds for Dummies book, which prompts the analysts at Elliott Wave International to write that "this 'democratization' of the riskiest assets stamps the trend as a mania. In a mania, knowledge of history and value are judged to be an impediment to success, and the advantage falls to the utterly unknowledgeable novice." That certainly sounds like a new way to bust open the exclusive club of hedge fund managers. Just give us the book, and we can all start making 20 percent on our investments.
Housing bust. Sorry, I can't figure out how to take a new look at this story. It's almost like another one that won't go away – political campaigning. Heaven help us all, but the presidential campaign for 2008 has already started. We are doomed to repeatedly see the same politicians' faces, hear the same stump speeches, and view the same political faux pas over and over again. I can already feel us being sucked into our national Groundhog Day theme song: "I Got You Babe."
Susan C. Walker writes for Elliott Wave International, a market forecasting and technical analysis company. She has been an associate editor with Inc. magazine, a newspaper writer and editor, an investor relations executive and a speechwriter for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. She is a graduate of Stanford University.