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Johnson: The "as" syndrome
26 July 2012
Philip McBride Johnson questions journalistic standards as Euro crisis spreads.
There is not much to chuckle about in the financial markets these days. What with the exhausting European drama, stirrings in the housing market, Wall Street shenanigans, and a national political campaign long on commercials and short on ideas, we need a break. We need a good laugh, and one prospect confronts us daily.
I refer, of course, to the business media headlines. Each day, a reporter (or editor) feels compelled to link market actions to external events. The connector word is usually "as," as in "Markets Retreat as Iran Tensions Rise" or "Markets Rally as GE Reports Better-Than-Expected Earnings." Chances are, there is a galactical chasm between the two events but the practice persists. It is time for the rest of us to chime in.
This is why I propose a contest, open to all, to create the greatest nonsequitur between financial results and extrinsic happenings. For example: "Treasury Yields Approach Zero as Johnson Retires." Or: "High Tech Stocks Fall as Coloradans Mourn Massacre Victims." Or: "Housing Starts Revive as Beijing Clamps Down On Internet Use."
Readers can do much better, of course. That is why a contest is being suggested. How about: "Drought in Midwest as Barclays' CEO resigns." Or: "Japanese Tsunami Debris Reaches US Shores as Murdoch Changes Corporate Structure." Or: "Solar Power Bankruptcies Continue as London Olympics Approach." Or . . .
This is the rare opportunity of every market watcher to embarrass the financial press. Maybe to persuade them with this headline: "Stocks Showed Solid Gains Today For No Evident Reason." Or: "Gold Continues Slide Without Any Explanation." All of us would feel soooo much better if the news would admit that markets, like our own children, do inexplicable things.
But what of the prize? I have already checked with the Nobel Prize committee but they have no category for "debunking." A shame. Maybe a life's free subscription to a statistical journal? Or the winner might get a free weeks in Cleveland, with second prize as two free weeks in Cleveland.
Whatever, we must end this foolish alignment of utterly unrelated events. Journalists enjoy a good joke. One of them, in fact, might win. It is called "incentivising" in MBA circles. The time has come.
Philip McBride Johnson is a former chairman of the CFTC