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News Comment
"A View From Across The Pond" an Englishman's personal view of the week's news in the USA -
from Erithacus

Stock markets headed generally downwards during this week, with some of the worst falls on Friday as the Dow Jones index reached its the lowest point in 12 months and finished at 9,823.41, down 207.87 (2.07%) on the day and 7.7% down on the week. The Nasdaq Composite Index finished at 1,890.91, well below the important 2,000 level and had lost 7.9% in the week to reach this lowest point since November 1998. The week’s drops in U.S. share prices represent over $900 billion, and since March 24th of last year the losses have been more than $4.8 trillion.

Continued worries about the state of the U.S. economy were said to be a major factor in investors’ nervousness, and this was worsened by continuing profit warnings from major companies as well as further concern over the Japanese economy and its banking sector in particular. Hopes that the Federal Reserve would cut interest rates by at least 0.75% on Tuesday had been fading as news arrived of better than expected employment figures and then news that consumer sentiment in March was edging upwards after three consecutive months of sharp decline. The latest falls in the Markets have revived hopes that the cut will be greater than the 0.5% now expected, although worries persist that these falls are both indicators and contributory factors to a serious economic decline. "We need consumer confidence to start getting to a bottom in this economic slowdown, " said a Wall Street trader on Friday, "But the bad news in the short term is that an increase in confidence would make the Fed more likely to cut less than more." However, A.C. Moore, chief investment strategist at Dunvegan Associates in Santa Barbara, California, said, "The growing feeling is that the Fed action next week is going to turn the market."

Meanwhile, President Bush has been accused by Democrats of contributing to the stock market falls by highlighting bad economic news in his speeches to build support for his tax cut plans. Although in his weekly address he said, "We have been hearing too much troubling economic news. It is time for the United States Congress to give Americans some good economic news: tax relief for everyone who pays income taxes", he again went on to mention the faltering economy before urging Congress to pass the tax cut. Some Democrats have blame the whole economic downturn solely on Bush’s negative comments before he took office, but Republicans are equally convinced that the downturn was already underway last year while Democrat Bill Clinton was in power. An observer might, perhaps, wonder whether they should perhaps all be concentrating on how to tackle the downturn, rather than trying to score political points off each other. But that’s politics, I suppose.

While farmers and governments throughout the world panic about foot-and-mouth disease and Europe’s recent BSE problems, Mexico has remained largely unaffected by either. Fortunate, one might think. But, although little reported, Mexican farmers are threatened by a far more serious menace as in the town of Xaltianguis in the western state of Guerrero some 12,000 are now considered to be at risk from blood-sucking bats that often leave the cattle infected with rabies. I think I prefer foot-and-mouth.

The residents of Houston found themselves in luck when a truck turned over on a freeway. The driver was unhurt and told police he had been lighting a cigarette when he lost control of the vehicle, but his load of 46,000 pounds of processed chickens were spread all over the road. Enthusiastic drivers left their cars to collect the chickens despite warnings from frantic officials that the poultry could be contaminated. One passerby was convinced the accident was a result of divine intervention: "You know, times is hard now, you better take every break you can", he told a local television reporter as he stuffed chickens into his car, "Anytime you get anything free, it's got to be the work of God."

And finally, the most optimistic man of the week must be former Canadian drug smuggler, Brian O'Dea, who, on release from prison, placed a newspaper advertisement in the hope of finding suitable employment. "Former Marijuana Smuggler," the advertisement started, "Having successfully completed a ten-year sentence, incident free, for importing 75 tonnes of marijuana into the United States, I am now seeking a legal and legitimate means to support myself and my family". Mr O’Dea went on to describe the skills he had acquired during his years as a drug smuggler, and how these skills could be an asset to future employers. Any offers?

18th March 2001                        


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